HONG KONG (Reuters) - Three prominent Chinese activists were blocked from entering Hong Kong on Wednesday amid a tightening of the city’s immigration and security measures days before Olympic equestrian events are held.
Hong Kong, which was returned to China from Britain in 1997 with promises of a high degree of autonomy, has in recent months seemingly capitulated to pressure from Beijing and barred activists planning peaceful pre-Olympics protests, which critics say have tarnished the city’s image as a free and open Asian hub.
Yang Jianli, an exiled Chinese democracy activist who lives in the United States, Zhou Jian and Min Wong were detained by authorities as they tried to clear immigration at the airport.
Speaking from a guarded detention centre inside the airport, Yang slammed Hong Kong authorities for detaining him, despite, he said, possessing a valid Chinese passport.
“The autocratic security measures (in Hong Kong) are a result of direct pressure from the Beijing government ... because of the Olympics,” Yang told Reuters by telephone in the closed detention centre, where he expected to be kept overnight with Min Wong, after refusing requests to be deported to Tokyo.
Yang, who was only released from a Chinese prison last year, insisted Hong Kong authorities allow him to travel into mainland China, despite the risk of further incarceration.
“I want to challenge the authorities on the issue of the right to return home ... too, too many (Chinese) dissidents now don’t have the right to return home,” said the 45-year-old Yang.
Yang had planned to hold a peaceful protest walk in Hong Kong pushing for democracy and improved human rights in China.
Albert Ho, a lawyer and chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party who was summoned to the airport’s closed area where Yang and Wong were held to arbitrate on their behalf, criticized Hong Kong’s travel curbs on individuals “blacklisted” by Beijing.
“The government is hysterical about this Olympics Games. They’re now taking a lot of unnecessary precautions,” he said.
Ho said Zhou Jian had been put on a plane back to Los Angeles.
Over the past week, four other Chinese activists including Fei Liangyong and Pan Qing have been turned away from Hong Kong, according to fellow activists familiar with their movements.
Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said it had the power to “refuse entry of non-residents if necessary”, but wouldn’t comment on individual cases.
In the runup to Hong Kong’s Olympic torch relay in May, half a dozen overseas activists were denied entry to the city.
Yang, a permanent U.S. resident, has lived in exile because of his involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square which led to a crackdown by Chinese soldiers that killed hundreds.
He was jailed for five years on charges of stealing into the country and spying for Taiwan and released last year.
The Olympics open in Beijing on Friday. The equestrian events begin in Hong Kong on Saturday.
(Editing by Jon Bramley)
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