Hong Kong pulls plug on concert of popular singer-activist

Canto-pop singer and political activist Denise Ho (South China Morning Post photo)

HONG KONG: Canto-pop singer and political activist Denise Ho has been banned from performing next week at one of Hong Kong’s top theatres, just days after a pro-Beijing newspaper accused her of taking part in anti-China activities.

Responding to the termination of her contract on Wednesday, Ho, an anti-government activist who was vocal in her support of protesters during the 2019 social unrest, said she would arrange for a refund for ticket buyers and planned to live-stream her show next Sunday.

“[We] can’t help but ask, as an independent organisation supporting contemporary art, and has operated in the city for 44 years, how can Arts Centre randomly terminate any hiring contracts without citing concrete evidence?” Ho’s company, Goomusic, said in a statement. “We are very disappointed.”

In its own statement, Hong Kong Arts Centre said it had decided to cancel Ho’s reservation for the period between Sept 6 and 12 citing clause 22(c) of the centre’s terms and conditions. It also said it would return the booking fee of HK$127,800 (530,000 baht) to Ho.

Under the clause, if the person renting the venue fails to observe or perform any of the provisions of these terms and conditions or in circumstances where “public order or public safety would be endangered during the course of performance … the management may, without notice, cancel the confirmed booking and terminate the hiring of the hired venue”.

No explanation of the public safety issues allegedly at play was given, nor did the centre specify what provisions Ho had failed to meet.

Ho’s music show was to have run from Sept 8 to 12 at the Arts Centre’s Shouson Theatre in Wan Chai. Tickets for the seven performances – which cost HK$680 each – were all sold out by mid-August. She paid a rental fee of HK$127,800 for the facility.

“Despite inexplicable changes and red lines, our show will not be limited by venues, and our live-stream will carry on next Sunday,” her company said in its statement.

Ho, an active participant in Hong Kong’s protest movement, was recently attacked by pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao, which accused her of taking part in what it termed anti-China and Hong Kong activities since 2019.

Ho is a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, a group that has supported protesters facing criminal prosecution or financial hardship as a result of the 2019 unrest.

The fund announced last month that it would close in October, but security chief Chris Tang Ping-keung issued a strong warning last week nonetheless, questioning whether it was trying to “make underhanded profit” from a final donation drive before its imminent disbandment.

Ho also went to the UN Human Rights Council amid the anti-government protests of 2019 asking the UN to remove China from the body and convene an urgent session to protect Hongkongers, a move highlighted by the paper, which also suggested she had been colluding with a US agent.

Two months later, Ho was invited by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in the United States to testify on Hong Kong’s situation amid the social unrest. She attended alongside jailed activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and activist Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, who recently announced he was now residing in the United States.