Home / Politics / News /  Hong Kong pop star gets canceled amid fears of national-security chill

A major nonprofit arts center barred the pro-democracy Hong Kong pop star Denise Ho from performing just days before a scheduled series of concerts, as concerns grow that a continuing crackdown led by Beijing could stifle artistic expression in the city.

In letters shared by the singer on Wednesday, the Hong Kong Arts Centre said it was pulling her Sept. 6-12 reservation at the venue under a clause that allows cancellations “where public order or public safety would be endangered."

“The management of the Arts Centre is duty bound to observe closely the recent developments in society and the laws concerned," the letter, dated Tuesday, said without elaborating. Rental fees of $16,430 would be returned to her music label, the letter said.

The Hong Kong Arts Centre and Ms. Ho didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Hong Kong Arts Centre, an independent nonprofit institution established in 1977, has long served as a local hub for the arts, including those on political subjects. But the city’s cultural platforms have come under increasing pressure after a national security law was imposed by Beijing last year. Many people have retreated from political or protest-related activities on their own, causing critics to warn of self-censorship.

The city’s government and Beijing say the national security law is aimed at thwarting secessionist acts and terrorism, but it also has caught up mainstream pro-democracy politicians and activists, as well as educators, journalists and other constituents of civil society.

“It’s a purge on all sectors of society happening simultaneously, and of course, arts and culture are not immune to this," said Kacey Wong, a well-known political artist from Hong Kong who moved to Taiwan in July, citing the city’s political climate and safety concerns.

Along with other Hong Kong artists and industry figures, Mr. Wong, 51, was targeted by Chinese state-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao in March over their connections to the pro-democracy movement.

Ms. Ho, 44, emerged as a pro-democracy figure during the 2014 Umbrella Movement and took part in the 2019 antigovernment protests, breaking ranks with other celebrities in the city who have eschewed politics or vocally embraced Chinese patriotism. Even before the national security law, taking political stands has been complicated for Hong Kong artists given the importance of the mainland’s lucrative market.

Ms. Ho said Wednesday that her team had examined their concert-related materials and couldn’t see how their performance or hiring of a venue could endanger public order or safety.

The national security law has had a chilling effect, with some in Hong Kong dialing back or abandoning cultural pursuits for fear of being targeted. Bleak House Books, a popular independent bookstore, announced last week that it would close in mid-October because of “the state of politics in Hong Kong."

Hong Kong’s authorities expanded the powers of its film censors to include national security concerns in June. Last week, the city’s government proposed a law that would empower officials to ban movies and screenings on national security grounds. Those found to have shown unapproved films could be jailed for up to three years and fined the equivalent of about $129,000, according to the bill.

Edward Yau, the secretary for commerce and economic development, said last week that the new rules were designed to safeguard national security and provide clear guidance to the film industry.

On Friday, government officers raided the screening of an acclaimed romantic drama and accused dozens of attendees, including director Kiwi Chow, of breaching social-distancing rules and handed out $640 fines.

Mr. Chow is known in Hong Kong as one of the contributors to an award-winning dystopian anthology of short films called “Ten Years" and for a politically sensitive documentary about the 2019 protests that was produced largely in secret and made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in July.

“This is the atmosphere in Hong Kong now. Denise Ho can’t hold a concert, and I can’t show a romance film," Mr. Chow said. “It’s just that Denise Ho and I are people who openly support democracy and freedom. The suppression is quite obvious."

Hong Kong’s top official, Carrie Lam, has said that freedom of expression, guaranteed in the city’s Basic Law, isn’t absolute where national security is concerned.

Separately, Mok Kwan-ling, the director of a short film called “Far From Home," about a couple who met during the 2019 antigovernment protests, said she had received requests from government censors to make 14 cuts, change its title and add a warning that its content may constitute a criminal offense.

The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration, the government department responsible for enforcing the censorship rules, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The office told local media it doesn’t comment on individual cases.

The film is about a girl who goes to her boyfriend’s home to tidy up before a police search following his arrest. Ms. Mok said she didn’t plan to resubmit the film to the censors and had no hopes of it being shown in Hong Kong.


This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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