Journalists' associations and press freedom groups have slammed the recent banning of four Hong Kong journalists from Macau, a former Portuguese colony that returned to Chinese rule two years after Britain returned Hong Kong to China.
South China Morning Post photographer Felix Wong, two reporters from the pro-democracy Apple Daily and one from the online news site HK01 were denied entry to Macau by border guards on Saturday after they traveled there to cover widespread havoc and 10 deaths wreaked by Typhoon Hato.
Immigration officials said the reporters "posed a threat to the city's internal security and stability."
The Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA) and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) hit out at the move in a statement on their website.
"[We] call on the Macau government to respect press freedom and not to arbitrarily restrict the rights of entry and exit of journalists in Macau," the groups said.
The statement said none of those refused entry were troublemakers, and that the decision to refuse them entry was "unreasonable."
It said the bans are the latest in a string of entry bans affecting Hong Kong journalists in recent years.
Meanwhile, the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association said it found the authorities' explanation for the action "incomprehensible and unsatisfactory."
"This move, similarly to previous ones of the same kind, tarnishes the international image of [Macau] regarding press freedom," the group said.
International press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), added its voice to the chorus of criticism surrounding the ban.
'Vague security allegations'
It said the reporters were "briefly detained" at the city's Outer Harbor checkpoint and then asked to sign a notice stating that they were indeed a security risk.
"Denying journalists access to Macau over vague security allegations is unacceptable," CPJ Asia program coordinator Steven Butler said.
"Extreme weather affects both Hong Kong and Macau, and journalists' work is vital to keeping citizens safe and holding authorities accountable for their response," Butler said.
But Macau police chief Ma Io Kun said the denial of entry had nothing to do with the four journalists' profession.
"When reporters at the press conference asked, Ma refused to explain how the journalists posed a threat to Macau's security," the CPJ said.
Under the terms of both cities' handover to Chinese rule, Hong Kong residents are supposed to have free entry into Macau.
The deaths and damage from the typhoon are a politically sensitive topic in Macau, which saw its weather bureau chief Fong Soi-kun step down amid a probe by the city's anti-corruption body into how he handled preparations for the storm.
The graft-busting body said it had received complaints that the bureau under Fong may have broken the rules when making forecasts about the threat from the typhoon.
Macau police on Tuesday arrested a 73-year-old man and his 68-year-old sister in connection with "rumors" about Typhoon Hato which slammed into the coastal city last week.
The man stands accused of texting dozens of people with reports of five bodies whose deaths went unreported.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.