Two leaders of an unofficial "referendum" on Macau's chief executive election and three other activists were detained yesterday as police shut down polling stations.
Officers raided all five referendum polling stations within hours of the launch of the seven-day ballot, which asked locals if they had confidence in Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on and wanted universal suffrage at the next election.
The detained included Scott Chiang Meng-hin, a key member of the New Macau Association, the most prominent democratic group in the former Portuguese enclave. Also detained was Jason Chao Teng-hei - leader of Open Macau Society, co-organisers of the poll with Macau Conscience and Macau Youth Dynamics.
Pundits and pan-democrats lambasted Chui - who is standing unopposed for a second five-year term - for disregarding the city's freedom of expression under the Basic Law, ahead of his guaranteed victory next Sunday. Only 400 people are eligible to vote in the election.
Yang Chongwei, deputy coordinator of the Office for Personal Data Protection, said: "It is inherently illegitimate for personal information to be collected and handled for the purpose of the so-called civil referendum."
The authorities were targeting only "the relevant body", and as for individuals, it was a "personal choice" to submit personal information to any groups, Yang said at a rare joint press conference with the police.
All five activists were later released.
Watch: Macau unofficial referendum organiser: Hong Kong and Macau should join forces for democracy
Chui repeated his stance yesterday that the activists' poll "does not comply with the Basic Law". Beijing has also denounced the poll as illegal.
Activists rejected the claims by Chui and Yang, and accused Chui of being "afraid" to learn the results of the referendum.
Bill Chou Kwok-ping, vice-president of the New Macau Association, said: "We collect such data upon the consent of the people we poll.
"The crackdown was unexpectedly high-handed. It perfectly illustrates how much [Beijing's] liaison office fears an awakening of the typically apolitical Macau public."
In the unprecedented ballot, similar to Occupy Central's June poll in Hong Kong, five booths across the city opened at 11am, but they were stormed by police, one by one. All the booths had to shut by 1.30pm, eight hours before the scheduled closing time.
Over 4,200 had voted by midnight. Organisers advised people to cast their ballots online before polling closed on Saturday.
Cat Sin, a housewife in her 40s, said: "I'm voting because Chui has done little to lower housing prices for the next generation."
A woman in her 70s did not vote but was displeased with the state of affairs. "The election of the chief executive is supposed to be a big thing," she said. "But nobody is really quite a part of it."