British Conservative party activist barred from entering Hong Kong
A leading British human rights activist who has been a vocal critic of China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s political freedoms has been barred from entering the former colony on the eve of a key political summit in Beijing.
Benedict Rogers, the deputy chair of the Conservatives’ human rights commission, flew into Hong Kong on Wednesday morning on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok but said he was stopped at immigration and refused entry.
“They gave me no explanation at all,” he told the Guardian by phone as he prepared to fly back to Thailand on Wednesday afternoon.
“It is absolutely bizarre … I feel shocked. I had received a warning that this might happen so I was mentally prepared for it but was hoping it wouldn’t happen. I feel very shocked. I feel it is yet another example of, if not the death, then the death throes of ‘One country, two systems’”.
Rogers lived in Hong Kong from 1997 to 2002, and said he had been coming back on a private visit to see friends, including a number of prominent democracy activists. “I wanted to come and meet people and learn about the current situation,” he said.
Speaking as he prepared to leave the former colony, on a flight back to Bangkok, Rogers claimed he had been indirectly warned, through a third party, that the Chinese embassy in London was “extremely concerned” about his plans to visit Hong Kong. He claimed embassy officials had conveyed a warning that he might not be let in. “I decided to go ahead and to put it to the test.”
As he was escorted to his flight out of Hong Kong, Rogers said he turned to the immigration officer taking him to the plane and thanked him for treating him well. “I said: ‘Does this mean ‘one country, two systems’ is dead? Is it ‘one country, one system’ now?’
“He looked at me actually very sadly, almost with tears in his eyes, and said: ‘I’m just doing my job, I can’t comment.’
“I feel very sad for it. I feel sad for Hong Kong. If a private citizen from Britain who is coming basically to meet old friends and new friends … is denied entry then it is a very sad day for Hong Kong.”
Martin Lee, a veteran democracy campaigner who was among those Rogers had hoped to meet, said he was ashamed about the incident. “This should never happen in a free society … Hong Kong should not be a city that bans viewpoints, it should be international and open.”
Lee said he suspected Beijing had ordered Hong Kong authorities to refuse Rogers entry. “How can you say we have a high degree of auton-
omy when Beijing intervenes over one man who has broken no laws trying to visit Hong Kong?”
Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s top civil servant at the time of handover, urged the British government to make an official protest to the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.
“Is it going to be the norm that anyone who dares speak against the official line will be barred from Hong Kong? It’s increasingly looking that way,” Chan said. “We don’t want to see this become the norm, it makes a mockery of Hong Kong as an international hub.”
Chan said the political situation had deteriorated in recent years, leading to increasingly radical politics. “Cases like this are why our younger generation is so angry,” she said. “Every day we see examples of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms being eroded, of promises broken time and time again.”
Hong Kong’s immigration departs said it does not comment on specific cases, but then went on to dispute Rogers’ version of events, saying one of its staff that escorted Rogers to the gate did not hear his comment on “one country, two systems”.
A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are aware that Benedict Rogers has been denied entry into Hong Kong. We do not comment on individual consular cases, but are seeking urgent information on the reasons for this. We have always said that we expect ‘one country two systems’ to be respected.”
Rogers has been an outspoken critic of Beijing’s refusal to grant greater democracy to Hong Kong and its treatment of young activists, such as the umbrella movement leader Joshua Wong.
He was one of the organisers of a recent letter denouncing the “outrageously unjust” imprisonment of three of Hong Kong’s best-known pro-democracy activists, Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.
At the time Beijing rejected the letter’s criticism.
“Hong Kong is ruled by law and its citizens fully enjoy their own rights and freedoms. However, nobody can use the guise of ‘democracy and freedom’ to conduct illegal and violent activities [or] movements,” the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told reporters.
Earlier this month Rogers met prominent Hong Kong activists in London, including Eddie Chu, Derek Lam and Raymond Chan.
“With courageous and intelligent people like these, working together and building unity among the democratic camp, Hong Kong has a bright future despite its recent setbacks. And I pledge to support them in their struggle,” he wrote on Facebook.
In an online statement on Wednesday, Chan said the move to ban Rogers would undermine both Hong Kong’s freedoms and international confidence in the former colony. “I call on the British government to demand an explanation from its Chinese counterpart,” he wrote.
Polly Truscott, foreign affairs adviser at Amnesty International UK, said: “The decision to deny Ben Rogers’ entry into Hong Kong is disturbing, and underscores the government’s willingness to suppress the right to freedom of expression.
“Ben is a respected advocate for human rights, and we will be following developments closely in the coming weeks and months. The Hong Kong government should not use borders as tools for suppressing conversations about democracy and other matters of national and global concern.”
British activist Benedict Rogers, who has been barred from Hong Kong, addressing a pro-democracy protest outside the UK foreign office in August.