Police in the global gambling hub of Macau have arrested five people involved with an informal poll to measure support for direct elections of the Chinese-controlled city's leader. The five were arrested yesterday after activists kicked off the weeklong unofficial referendum inspired by a similar vote in June in nearby Hong Kong that Beijing denounced as an illegal farce but which drew nearly 800,000 votes. Macau's government privacy watchdog had warned organizers they were violating privacy laws by collecting identity card data from voters.
The arrests are "a serious violation of human rights," says the president of Open Macau Society, one of three groups organizing the poll in the former Portuguese colony. "You can feel that how the government fears the result of the referendum." A Beijing-friendly 400-person election committee is widely expected to elect the former Portuguese colony's current leader to another five-year term on August 31, the same day that referendum organizers plan to release results of the poll.