British Conservative party activist barred from entering Hong Kong

Benedict Rogers, deputy chair of party’s human rights commission, escorted on to flight out of former British colony

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 returning 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.

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.

“In consultation with others, I took the view that if I were to cave in to pressure from the embassy I would be doing exactly what I have criticised others of doing: kowtowing to China,” Rogers said. “My conscience would not allow me to do that.”

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.’”

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 autonomy 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.

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.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, told the Guardian that at face value barring Rogers was disturbing and inexplicable.

“He was travelling on a valid British passport, met all the requirements for a UK citizen visiting Hong Kong and was not told the grounds he was sent away,” Patten said.

Patten said he had contacted the office of the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, as well as the consulate general in Hong Kong over Rogers’ case.

Johnson said in a statement: “I am very concerned that a UK national has been denied entry to Hong Kong. The British government will be seeking an urgent explanation from the Hong Kong authorities and from the Chinese government.

“Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and its rights and freedoms, are central to its way of life and should be fully respected.”

Hong Kong’s immigration department said it did not comment on specific cases, but went on to dispute Rogers’ version of events, saying its staff member who had escorted Rogers to the gate had not heard his comment on “one country, two systems”.

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.

Today I had great privilege of meeting with some of Hong Kong's leading pro-democracy legislators and activists. I pledge to stand with them

— Benedict Rogers (@benedictrogers) October 1, 2017

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.

Amnesty International UK said the decision to deny Rogers entry was disturbing.

“The Hong Kong government should not use borders as tools for suppressing conversations about democracy and other matters of national and global concern,” said Polly Truscott, an Amnesty foreign affairs adviser.


Tom Phillips and Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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