HONG KONG – The head of an international human rights group that planned to criticize China's growing global influence at an event in Hong Kong said it was barred from entering on Sunday due to the latest signs of eroding liberties in the city.
Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch CEO, said he was turned down at Hong Kong International Airport after arriving from New York. Roth planned to release on Wednesday a report by his group highlighting repressive governments around the world, with an essay on what he described as China's increasingly profound attack on international human rights efforts.
Roth's ban on Hong Kong follows similar bans on entering a handful of journalists and human rights observers in recent years, raising concerns in a city that has long prided itself on defending the democratic values of freedom of expression and training.
Hong Kong has been the target of more than seven months of anti-government protests, angered by the invasion of Chinese power in semi-autonomous territory. The local government is under pressure from Beijing authorities to restore order and defend its image abroad.
Human Rights Watch noted that Roth had visited Hong Kong several times, including in April 2018, to draw attention to a report on gender discrimination in the chinese job market.
"It is sad evidence of the deterioration of basic freedoms in Hong Kong that I would be barred less than two years later," he said by email.
He said authorities said he was blocked for "immigration reasons". The Hong Kong Immigration Department said it would not comment on an individual case. A Chinese government office overseeing Hong Kong and Macau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong operates in China under a “one country, two systems” formula that promises the territory a high degree of autonomy, including independent courts, free media and extensive civil liberties protections. Traditionally, it is more welcoming to foreign journalists, academics, and human rights observers than mainland Chinese authorities, who regularly bar entry and expel people over sensitive issues.
But in recent years, Hong Kong has been criticized for approaching the continent by using immigration policy to bar those who have criticized the government or attempted to discuss politically sensitive topics. Journalist Organizations Tue also complained that police interfered with the coverage of the protests, arresting reporters and hitting them with rubber bullets and pepper spray.
In 2018, the government expelled Victor Mallet, Asia news editor for the Financial Times, after organizing a lecture by the head of a banned political party calling for Hong Kong independence from China. The talk was held at the Foreign Correspondents Club, which regularly receives speakers from various sides on important issues, but Beijing and local officials harshly criticized the club.
Matthew Connors, a photographer and professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design who had documented the protests, was entry denied in early January. He was arrested while documenting a demonstration in Hong Kong last year, but never charged.
The refusal to grant Roth access to Hong Kong came amid a sometimes violent protest movement in the territory, which tightened relations between the United States and China. President Trump signed legislation in November that authorized sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations. At the same time, Trump tries to negotiate a trade deal with Chinese leaders.
Image"I expected to highlight Beijing's profound attack on international efforts to defend human rights," said Roth. “The refusal to let me in Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.” Credit … Alexander Becher / EPA via Shutterstock
The dispute has also created tensions in the world of professional sports. In October, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a picture on Twitter supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and LeBron James faced a negative reaction by saying that Morey “was not educated about the situation at hand. "
In December, China announced that it would impose “sanctions” against a number of US-based pro-democracy non-profit organizations, including Human Rights Watch.
No further explanation of the so-called sanctions was given, the organization said on Sunday.
Roth said he landed in Hong Kong around 2:30 pm. Sunday, and four and a half hours later, he was on a flight back to Newark.
"This disappointing action is yet another sign that Beijing is reinforcing its oppressive rule over Hong Kong and further restricting the limited freedom that people in Hong Kong enjoy in one country, two systems," said Roth. in written communication. "Worried governments must take a firm stand against China's growing repression against which a large number of people have been protesting for months."