A popular Hong Kong singer and pro-democracy activist will not be allowed to perform at one of the city’s top theaters later this month, stoking concerns that the Chinese authorities’ crackdown on dissent is reaching into the entertainment and cultural scene.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre cited a public safety clause in canceling Denise Ho’s venue reservations for her concerts, according to a statement posted Wednesday by the singer’s company Goomusic on Facebook.
The cancellation came days after pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao accused Ho of being “anti-China” due to her involvement in the 2019 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Ho is an outspoken activist and joined in widespread protests during the city’s Umbrella Movement in 2014 and later in 2019 that sought to protect Hong Kong’s longstanding civil liberties from mainland China’s interference.
“We can’t help but ask how the Hong Kong Arts Center, as an independent institution supporting contemporary art which has been operating for 44 years, can now arbitrarily suspend contracts without substantive evidence?” Goomusic’s statement said.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre did not immediately comment.
Ho’s sold-out concerts were slated for Sept. 8 to 12.
The cancellation has fed concerns that Hong Kong’s flourishing cultural scene, which in the past was known for its freedom of expression, is the latest target as Beijing tightens its control over the city.
Hong Kong authorities have over the past year arrested dozens of pro-democracy activists and pushed through electoral reforms that would reduce the number of directly elected legislators in the city.
Critics have accused Beijing and Hong Kong authorities of limiting freedoms promised to the city when it was handed over by the British to mainland China in 1997.
According to Goomusic, the Hong Kong Arts Centre canceled the venue over a clause stating that it could terminate the booking of a venue if the person renting the venue fails to observe the terms and conditions in circumstances where “public order or public safety would be endangered.”
Ho’s company added that the Hong Kong Arts Centre had told Goomusic representatives that it was “bound to observe closely the recent developments in society.”
Ho’s company said it would refund ticket buyers and that the singer will livestream her concert instead on the scheduled date of Sept. 12.
“We may face constraints in performance venues, but the stage itself is not limited by boundaries,” said Goomusic’s statement.
The cancellation of Ho’s concert venue came days after Hong Kong film director Kiwi Chow was fined a 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($640) for allegedly flouting coronavirus restrictions during a private movie screening.
Chow, known for directing the films Ten Years and Revolution of our Times about the city’s democracy movement, had held a private screening of his film Beyond the Dream last week.
Authorities later raided the screening and accused attendees of flouting social-distancing rules, since public gatherings in Hong Kong are currently limited to just four people.
Chow claimed that the private screening was limited to friends only, saying on a local radio program that he would not pay the fine and opt to take the case to court instead. The city’s social-distancing restrictions do not apply to private gatherings.