Five pro-democracy lawmakers and activists from Hong Kong were on Sunday turned away from Macau in a mission to test if an earlier entry ban had been lifted, amid fears for freedom of expression.
The five were part of a 30-strong delegation who travelled to Macau to challenge government moves to deny entry to a handful of Hong Kong politicians and academics and a photographer in recent months.
Customs officers questioned Hong Kong lawmakers "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and Lee Cheuk-yan and three others when they arrived on a ferry from Hong Kong on Sunday morning.
The officers then sent them back to Hong Kong, saying the decision was made in accordance with Macau's internal security laws.
The rest of the group was allowed to enter the territory, which has been part of China since 1999.
Macau has turned away Hong Kong politicians in previous years, but the introduction of new internal security legislation last month has raised fresh fears, with rights groups saying it has the potential to stifle freedom.
The new law was passed in accordance with the mini-constitution introduced after Macau's return to Chinese rule and prohibits treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central government in Beijing.
Leung, a maverick activist, said he was frustrated at being turned away.
"The original idea of the internal security law was to protect Macau people against triad groups and terrorists," Leung told AFP.
He said that when he asked the officers which part of the legislation he had breached he was told: "The entire law."
The lawmaker also criticised the Hong Kong government for failing to adopt a stronger stance against Macau on the issue.
Lee, leader of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said he believed authorities were worried he would try to contact workers' groups in the gambling enclave, where unemployment has risen sharply due to the financial crisis.
He said even low-profile members of Hong Kong's workers' unions had been barred from entering Macau in recent months.
The Macau government admitted in a statement on Sunday that it had turned away five Hong Kong residents.
The Macau Police "has the responsibility to, in accordance with the law, refuse the entry of any non-Macau resident who does not fulfil the entry requirements in order to maintain the social stability and public order of Macau," a statement said.
Macau's Chief Executive Edmund Ho said previously that Macau would not make any decisions detrimental to exchanges between the two Chinese territories.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said in a statement on Sunday that Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang had expressed concerns earlier this month to Ho over the issue.
"The Hong Kong government will continue to monitor the development of the situation," the spokesman said.
Some Hong Kong politicians have expressed concerns the new law will impede freedom of expression.
They also fear it could smooth the passage of a similar bill in Hong Kong which was shelved in 2003 following massive opposition from the public.