Embattled Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying called on the city's residents to give up their pro-democracy activism and behave more like "sheep" in the Year of the Goat, as student leaders of last year's Occupy Central were refused entry to mainland China for New Year celebrations.
In a New Year's message on the first day of the Year of the Goat, also translated as the Year of the Ram, or Sheep, Leung said the previous year had been "rife with differences" as thousands of protesters camped out on major highways in a campaign for universal suffrage in 2017.
"Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong. Our society was rife with differences and conflicts," said Leung, who was caricatured as a wolf by protesters last year.
"In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong's future," he said.
He described sheep as "widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups."
Meanwhile, authorities across the internal border in China refused permission to two members of the academic activist group Scholarism to enter mainland China after they tried to visit extended family for New Year celebrations.
Tiffany Chin was detained for questioning and had her China entry permit and ID card confiscated after she landed at Kunming Airport in the southwestern province of Yunnan with her mother late on Wednesday, she told RFA.
"They asked me whether I had committed any wrongdoing in Hong Kong," Chin said.
"I asked them why they wouldn't let me into the country, and they said I had been causing trouble in Hong Kong, according to their records."
Held under guard
"They absolutely refused to let me in," she said, adding: "When they whispered among themselves, I could hear them saying 'It's that girl from the Occupy Central movement'."
Under the terms of the city's 1997 return to Chinese rule, Hong Kong and mainland China operate separate immigration and border controls.
Chin was taken under police escort to a guestroom at an airport hotel where she spent the night waiting for her return flight to Hong Kong on Thursday afternoon, she said.
A policewoman stayed in the room with her the whole time, Chin said.
"I was escorted to the plane by a number of people wearing military uniform, and then the security staff on the plane handed my documents over to the Hong Kong authorities," Chin said.
"It had occurred to me that I wouldn't be allowed in, but I never thought I'd effectively be kept under house arrest," she said.
Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old student leader who became one of the best-known figures in the Umbrella Movement, expressed concern over the authorities' treatment of Chin, his girlfriend, via Facebook, saying that he was en route to the United States to give a public talk on the Occupy movement.
Others refused entry
Meanwhile, a second Scholarism activist, Prince Wong, was prevented from entering China after she tried to cross the border into neighboring Shenzhen to visit relatives on the first day of the New Year holiday.
"They took my entry permit and told me that I had broken Chinese laws, because I was suspected of involvement in illegal protests in Hong Kong," Wong told RFA on Thursday.
"They refused me entry, and took a head-and-shoulders photo of me."
"I asked if I was now on an immigration blacklist, and they told me I should speak Mandarin [instead of the Hong Kong dialect of Cantonese]," Wong said.
"There was an older gentleman next to me who was also refused entry for the same reason," she added.
Wong was escorted back towards the Hong Kong side of the border, where her Hong Kong ID card and entry permit were handed back to her.
She said she is unsure whether her entry permit, used by residents of Hong Kong travel to China, has now been revoked.
While the entry permits are available to all citizens of Hong Kong and Macau, China has previously denied entry to outspoken critics of Beijing who are carrying them.
Last November, China revoked the travel permits of three leaders of Hong Kong's 79-day pro-democracy movement, effectively denying them permission to board a plane to Beijing in a bid to speak to leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party about their demands for free elections.
Alex Chow, leader of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and two fellow HKFS activists, Eason Chung and Nathan Law, were unable to board the Cathay Pacific flight at Hong Kong's International Airport.
The Occupy movement was sparked by a ruling from China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) on Aug. 31 that while all five million of Hong Kong's voters will be allowed to cast a ballot in the 2017 race for chief executive, they will only be able to choose between two or three candidates pre-selected by Beijing.
Occupy protesters and pan-democratic politicians, who won 54 percent of the popular vote in the last legislative elections, have dismissed the proposed reform package as "fake universal suffrage."
Hong Kong was promised a 'high degree of autonomy' and the preservation of traditional freedoms of speech and association under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain to China.
Many Occupy protesters have said they aren't just fighting for public nominations, but against the steady erosion of the city's core values and freedoms.
Journalists' groups have hit out at a slew of recent attacks—physical and online—on pro-democracy media outlets and websites in recent months.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.