An international press photo exhibition in Macau has been abruptly shut down, with speculation that sensitive images featuring anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year was the reason.
Journalists in the casino hub expressed regret over the move, while a local lawmaker pledged to seek answers on whether authorities had applied political pressure. The Netherlands-based organiser also said it would make inquiries.
The World Press Photo Exhibition 2020 is hosted by local Portuguese community organisation Casa de Portugal in conjunction with the private Orient Foundation and government-run Macau Foundation.
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The event, held in Macau every year since 2008 and featuring winning entries from all over the world, opened on September 25 and was scheduled to run until October 18.
But it closed suddenly last weekend due to “internal management problems”, Macau media reported, quoting Casa de Portugal president Amelia Antonio. Antonio declined to elaborate further.
There has been speculation organisers ran into difficulties due to the inclusion of a series of pictures on the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. They depicted alleged police violence against protesters, according to visitors quoted by local media.
Opposition lawmaker Au Kam-san called on officials to clarify whether they had any role in the closure.
“The Macau government has kept silent over the saga so far,” Au said. “And its silence has made the whole matter more suspicious. I will not jump to the conclusion that the Macau government is behind this for now. But just in May, it banned our photo exhibition on the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown.”
Portugal handed Macau back to China in 1999 and like Hong Kong, it operates under the “one country, two systems” policy guaranteeing a high degree of autonomy.
But unlike its neighbour, the gambling centre has been untroubled by protests, with residents strongly identifying with the mainland.
The Macau Portuguese and English Press Association said it “regrets the premature closure of the [exhibition] for reasons yet to be clarified”.
“If [this] is a result of pressure related to some photographs on display, then we consider it to be a serious and worrying incident that signals an erosion of freedom of expression.
“We emphasise that the [exhibition] brings together the world’s best photojournalism and has been a prestigious event for Macau over the years, highlighting quality photojournalism and press freedom,” the association’s board of directors said in a statement.
The Netherlands-based World Press Photo Foundation said it had been unable to confirm why the show closed early.
“We believe in the power of showing and the importance of seeing high-quality visual stories,” said director of exhibitions Laurens Korteweg. “Our annual exhibition connects the global audience to the stories that matter.”
The foundation said it was following local media reports suggesting the closure might be the result of external pressure.
“Supporting the conditions for freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry, freedom of the press is a fundamental part of our work,” it said.
Local media reports quoted Macau Foundation president Wu Zhiliang as denying there was any pressure to close the exhibition.
A government spokesman could not be reached for comment on Thursday night.
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This article Prestigious photo exhibition featuring media images of Hong Kong protests shuts down in Macau first appeared on South China Morning Post