Bri­tish Con­ser­va­tive party ac­tivist barred from en­ter­ing Hong Kong

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Tom Phillips and Ben­jamin Haas in 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.”

Pho­to­graph: Bene­dict Rogers

Bri­tish ac­tivist Bene­dict Rogers, who has been barred from Hong Kong, ad­dress­ing a pro-democ­racy protest out­side the UK for­eign of­fice in Au­gust.

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