HONG KONG (Reuters) - China barred a radical Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and lawmaker from a visit to the earthquake ravaged province of Sichuan on Friday, despite his earlier inclusion on an official list of delegates.
Leung Kwok-hung, a strident pro-democracy activist known as “Longhair”, had been traveling on a coach with other Hong Kong legislators to the airport, when he was told his travel permit application had been rejected at the last minute, on suspicions he was planning protests in China during the 3-day trip.
“Some Chinese netizens thought Leung Kwok-hung might carry out certain actions ... and so under such circumstances, the provincial government decided not to let him travel,” explained Rita Fan, the president of Hong Kong’s legislative council.
Leung, who has long been denied entry to mainland China, said he hadn’t planned any protests during the goodwill visit.
“This is an Olympics year, that (China) steps backwards like this is unpardonable,” he told reporters.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang said the decision was a Chinese immigration matter and he wouldn’t comment.
Despite Leung’s exclusion, Beijing made a rare concession in allowing four other pro-democracy lawmakers — normally barred from mainland China — to visit Sichuan, including Lee Wing-tat and Yeung Sum, both former chairmen of the Democratic Party.
The pro-democracy camp’s annual commemoration of the June 4th crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and its tireless push for universal suffrage have antagonized Beijing’s communist leadership since 1997, when the city reverted from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty.
On Sunday, Vice President Xi Jinping, China’s point man on Hong Kong affairs and a rising Communist Party star, will pay his first visit to Hong Kong since being promoted to the elite Standing Committee of the Politburo last autumn.
Local Democrats urged Xi to allow all Democrats to travel to China freely in future and to meet with them during his trip.
“We’ve never been able to have a dialogue. It’s a chance for the leadership to show that maybe there’s a different way of treating the pro-democracy members,” said legislator Emily Lau.
Reporting by James Pomfret and Amrita Sheokand; Editing by Jerry Norton