Hong Kong Student Leader Detained, Denied Entry to Thailand

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thailand-wong-10052016.jpg Hong Kong democracy campaigner Joshua Wong (C) speaks to the media upon his arrival at the international airport in Hong Kong, after being deported from junta-run Thailand, Oct. 5, 2016.

UPDATED at 14:40 EDT on 2016-10-05

A former student leader of Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy movement has been denied entry to Thailand, in a move by the Bangkok military junta that is widely believed to be at the request of Beijing.

Joshua Wong, 19, who has since co-founded the pro-democracy party Demosisto, was detained on arrival at Bangkok's international airport en route to speak at two universities about the Occupy Central movement.

He was denied entry and escorted onto a plane back to Hong Kong, he told reporters on arrival after writing that he was "illegally detained" on his Facebook page.

"Chulalongkorn University in Thailand invited me ... originally I should have given a speech [there]," Wong said after arriving at Hong Kong's International Airport.

"Yesterday, around 1.00 a.m. Hong Kong time, I arrived at Bangkok airport, and the immigration department and police ... maybe 20 ... came and held my passport immediately," he said.

"They sent me into one of the police stations at Bangkok airport, and they forced me to stay inside the police station, to stay imprisoned for totally 12 hours," he said.

Immigration officers had refused to give any explanation for Wong's detention, saying only that he had been "blacklisted," he said.

Wong said he had been denied permission to contact a lawyer, and to inform his family of his safe arrival.

He said he was "totally disappointed" with the experience.

"It was totally out of my expectations to have this kind of suppression from the Thai government," he said.

China requested 'cooperation'

Wong's invitation came from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science, who asked him to address students on the 40th anniversary of a bloody crackdown by the Thai army on student protesters.

Thailand's The Nation newspaper quoted a senior immigration police officer as saying that the move came after a request for "cooperation" on the matter from the Chinese government.

"The [Thai] Immigration Bureau blacklisted him and held him for deportation," the paper quoted Col. Pruthipong Prayoonsiri as saying.

"When officers informed him, Joshua Wong did not oppose it," Pruthipong said.

National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesman Col. Piyapong Klinpan said the NCPO, also known as the junta, decided to bar Wong over security concerns and the relationship with China.

“In this regard the NCPO takes a look from the perspective of security and relationship with a friendly country. We need to be careful of what Joshua Wong will say. We have to be watchful for a friendly country, which is China. To let (Joshua) move in Thailand is no good. It will not be good to let anyone cause hard feelings with a friendly country,” he told Benar News by phone.

“We don’t know what he is going to talk about and whether his speech supports or damages (national) security ... we asked him to go back. We did not violate his rights but (we) facilitated him going back,” he said.

Dozens of politicians and activists demonstrated outside the Thai consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday in protest at Wong's treatment, but were prevented from entering the building to speak to consular officials.

Pan-democratic lawmaker and veteran social activist Leung Kwok-hung said many are angry at the Hong Kong government for apparently failing to intervene to help Wong.

"Did they even speak to the Thai government about this?" Leung said. "Can't they even cope with the Thai government?"

Former Occupy Central leader Nathan Law, who was recently elected to the Legislative Council (LegCo) for Demosisto, said that around 30 LegCo members had issued a statement protesting Wong's detention.

"Joshua Wong didn't break any Thai laws; he was detained by the Thai government for no reason after being invited to take part in a university exchange event," Law told journalists.

"He was also denied any contact with the outside world."

Political factors

He hit out at the Thai government's treatment of a Hong Kong resident with a valid tourist visa.

Hong Kong secretary for security Rimsky Yuen, however, said countries have the right to regulate their own borders, "according to actual circumstances or for various reasons."

He said he didn't believe that Wong's denial of entry was linked to state-to-state pressure, but was linked to the Thai government's own "management" of people entering the country on tourist visas.

Richard Choi, deputy chairman of the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, disagreed, however.

"Joshua Wong had legitimate and lawful reasons to travel to Thailand," Choi told RFA.

"Given that the Thai government had no good reason ... to refuse him entry ... it looks as if political factors were involved in this situation," he said.

"All countries have the right to prevent anyone from crossing their borders, but that doesn't make it right," Choi added.

A student at Chulalongkorn University said no protest involving Wong was planned at the campus.

“As a representative of politics students at Chulalongkorn University and the host of the event ‘40 years after October 6,' we would like to clarify about Joshua Wong’s trip to Thailand to give a talk on 'new generation's politics’ which is hosted by the faculty of political science,” student Netiwit Chotiphatpahisal told reporters.

“We would like to state that our event is an academic event, not a political protest. Also, the purpose of our event is to inform new generations about the Oct. 6 event that happened in 1976, not to violently encourage people to protest or trigger any violence.”

Maya Wang, China researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, also said Wong's detention was the result of political factors.

"A number of unrelated incidents have shown us that the Thai government is increasingly willing to do the Chinese government's dirty work for it, by repatriating [Chinese] rights activists there, and by denying entry to other rights activists," Wang said.

"It is a cause for concern that they are increasingly under Beijing's influence and pressure," she said.

Amnesty International called on Thailand to clarify its role in Wong's aborted visit.

"Thailand has previously forcibly returned Chinese national activists, asylum-seekers and others to China under apparent pressure from Chinese authorities, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement," it said.

Thailand's repatriation history

Thailand has responded to a number of requests from Beijing to repatriate rights activists and dissidents, some of whom had already been granted political refugee status by the United Nations and were awaiting resettlement in a third country.

China on Wednesday declined to clarify its role in Wong's detention, with a foreign ministry official saying only that the ministry had "taken note of the relevant reports," Reuters reported.

Wong became the student icon of the 79-day civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections in Hong Kong, a movement which rejected Beijing's insistence that any move to universal suffrage in the city must include the vetting of candidates by its supporters.

Crowds of protesters occupied the city's streets in protest at the plan, using umbrellas to protect themselves from sun, rain, and pepper spray, and giving the Umbrella Movement its nickname.

But the movement ended with no political victory, and amid accusations from the ruling Chinese Communist Party that the protests were being orchestrated by "hostile foreign forces" behind the scenes.

In August, a Hong Kong district court sentenced Wong to 80 hours of community service on a charge of unlawful assembly.

The Hong Kong government later requested a jail sentence for Wong and two fellow activists.

Wong told reporters he felt "lucky" to have avoided the fate of five Hong Kong booksellers, who published works critical of Chinese leaders and disappeared and then later appeared in Chinese police custody. One of the five, Gui Minhai, appears to have been abducted while in Thailand and remains in detention in China.

Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service, by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service and by Nontarat Phaicharoen for BenarNews. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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