Hong Kong pop star and pro-democracy activist Denise Ho hit out on Thursday at the cancellation of her planned performance for French cosmetics maker Lancôme as a form of "white terror" working to silence the people of Hong Kong.
Lancôme canceled Ho's show on Sunday after criticism of the star appeared in state-run Chinese media, calling her "a poison of Hong Kong" for her support of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
The move prompted angry demonstrations, an online petition calling for the resignation of a top executive, and the closure of Lancôme's outlets in the former British colony on Wednesday.
Ho said via her Facebook page on Thursday that the cancellation of her show had highlighted "a serious issue."
"This is not solely about me and Lancôme, nor only about Hong Kong. This is about suppression and self-censorship that is affecting global market and brands, and the white terror that is spreading among our societies, working to silence all," Ho wrote.
"It is a serious issue, and we Hongkongers refuse to succumb to such fear. I hereby urge all of you to stand up against it, and to fight for the basic human right that is freedom of speech," she said.
Hong Kong officials have so far declined to comment on the furor, in which protesters and members of the public have hit out at Lancôme for "kowtowing" to Beijing.
"It's terrible, because all that [Denise Ho] was doing was speaking her mind," a Hong Kong resident surnamed Yeung told RFA on Thursday. "There was no reason to attack her in such a way."
Asked if she would boycott the French cosmetics giant in future, Yeung replied: "Yes, that's likely, because Denise Ho represents what young people like us stand for."
A resident surnamed Leung said the city's government is unlikely to stand up for Ho or any other Hong Kong citizen.
"Anyone who has the intelligence to realize when something like this happens should speak out about it, because it's not just a private matter. It is everyone's concern," Leung said.
"This is huge, because it's not just about what's right or wrong. It's about the fact that our basic rights are disappearing," he said.
Media opinion also picked up on the apparent lack of support for Hong Kong's basic freedoms from its own government.
"It’s sad for Hongkongers that their government officials don’t have the courage to speak out in support of pop singer Denise Ho," the Economic Journal said in an editorial on Wednesday.
The city's acting chief executive John Tsang said he will comment only when he fully understands what happened.
"Hongkongers would expect Tsang to show support for Ho either on his Facebook page or in front of the cameras," the Economic Journal article said.
But it added that the row had put Hong Kong officials in a difficult position.
"[The] labeling of Ho as 'poison' means Beijing is treating Ho as an enemy of the communist regime, so any support offered by Hong Kong officials could trigger a political storm between the city and the central government," the article, signed by S.C. Yeung, said.
It said the criticism of Ho by the Global Times, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, may have violated the city's miniconstitution, the Basic Law, which bars state-run organizations across the internal border in mainland China from intervening in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
Beijing applauds decision
The Global Times on Tuesday lauded Lancôme's cancellation of Ho's appearance as a smart business decision.
"As a commercial company, it is bound to seek profit, a wisdom it is supposed to display in situations of complexity," the paper said in an editorial.
Lancôme outlets in Hong Kong reopened on Thursday, while a petition started by retired French philosophy teacher Béatrice Desgranges garnered more than 22,000 signatures.
"We cannot accept that French companies have to bend to the political stance of the Chinese Communist Party," Desgranges wrote in the text of her petition on Change.org.
Denise Ho was among the first protesters to be arrested when police moved in to clear the last of the occupiers in December 2014 following a 79-day civil disobedience campaign for universal suffrage.
Ho and fellow Cantopop star Anthony Wong both saw some of their songs banned in mainland China after they joined in with the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014, which called for fully democratic elections in 2017.
China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), decreed on Aug. 31 that all five million of Hong Kong's voters can cast ballots in the 2017 poll, but would be able to choose only between two or three candidates vetted by a Beijing-backed election committee.
The plan was eventually rejected in Hong Kong's Legislative Council in June 2015, leaving the existing voting system by Beijing-backed committee in place.
Beijing has hit out at international support for the Occupy Central protests, saying that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is "void" and that China answers to no one in exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong, which was handed back by the U.K. in 1997.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Chen Pan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.