HONG KONG Aug 25 Police in Macau detained five
people involved in staging an unofficial referendum on democracy
in the southern Chinese territory, organisers said, nearly two
months after activists angered Beijing by conducting a similar
poll in Hong Kong.
The informal referendum among Macau's 600,000 residents
coincides with the widely expected re-election of local leader
Fernando Chui next Sunday.
But it is an official body of 400 that elects the leader,
similar to Hong Kong where a small committee of largely
pro-Beijing loyalists chooses who gets on the ballot,
effectively rendering the ability to vote meaningless.
The informal referendum in Macau, the world's biggest
gambling hub, asks whether the new leader should be elected by
universal suffrage in 2019.
Activists and local media said on Monday five people were
arrested for allegedly breaching the privacy law. Among those
detained was organiser Jason Chao, who was charged with "serious
disobedience with police', activists said. The five have been
Police in Macao shut down locations where electronic tablets
were available to vote on whether the new leader should be
elected by universal suffrage. The online poll, which was
launched on Sunday, aims to run for a week.
Bill Chou, vice president of the New Macau Group, a
grassroots organisation in Macau, said the crackdown was
unnecessary and high-handed, adding that everyone being polled
had done so by consent.
"We had asked their permission first before we collected
their identity cards and related information. There is no reason
for the police and other law enforcers to intervene and to
arrest our people in charge," he said. As of Monday morning,
4,700 people had voted.
Civic movements in Hong Kong and Macau could prove to be the
biggest challenge yet to Chinese rule in the two territories
after Beijing ruled that a similar informal referendum in Hong
Kong in June was illegal.
Several current and retired Chinese officials have warned in
recent months that Beijing is prepared to unleash the army
garrison to handle any riots in Hong Kong.
The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese
rule in 1997, followed two years later by the Portuguese-run
enclave of Macau.
Unlike Hong Kong, where calls for democracy have grown over
the years, Macau has remained largely apolitical. But over the
past year, Macau residents have become increasingly vocal over
perceived inequalities, with more than 20,000 taking to the
streets in May in protest.
A pro-democracy march in Hong Kong last month attracted more
than half a million people, organisers said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)