The programme director of Macau’s literary festival Hélder Beja has announced that he will step down, days after the festival cancelled events with three prominent writers. Organisers reportedly received news from the authorities that the trio could not be guaranteed entry into the autonomous city.

In an statement on Friday, Beja said that he had made a decision to abandon his position. Beja told HKFP that he no longer felt that he was able to “freely continue developing” his work after the episode.

macau literary festival
Photo: The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival.

His resignation came days after Beja told the media that authors James Church, Jung Chang and Suki Kim would not be able to attend the event, as the festival was “informally” told by authorities that their presence in the former Portuguese colony was “ill-timed.”

Jung Chang is the British-Chinese author of a biography on Mao Zedong and the book Wild Swans – a title which is banned in China. Suki Kim and James Church have both written about North Korea.

“As the co-founder and member of The Script Road direction since day one, and after the events that came to light in the past few days, ending up with the cancellation of a number of authors from the festival line-up, I consider I’m in no condition to continue on board under such scenario,” he wrote in an email announcement.

Beja subsequently told HKFP that he believed the events would impact the festival’s image and it is “in every way related” to his decision to step down. “I can’t say if freedom of expression is under threat in Macau, but I’m certainly not available to collaborate with any situation where freedom of expression is disregarded,” he said.

Hélder Beja
Hélder Beja. Photo: C2文創誌 screenshot.

The seventh edition of the festival is scheduled to take place between March 10 and March 25. Beja said that he will cease functions on March 26, right after the event ends. Beja said he will remain on board and contribute to this year’s festival “out of respect for our team and the many guests that are already on their way to Macau.”

In recent years, Macau has banned Hong Kong’s lawmakers, activists and journalists from entering the city. The Macau’s Immigration Services previously did not respond to HKFP’s request for comment.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.