Benedict Rogers, a British human rights activist barred from entering Hong Kong last week, says it was “absurd” to view his visit as an effort to meddle in Hong Kong affairs.
Rogers, the deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party’s human rights commission, said his trip was not about foreign policy, but was for meeting friends in private.
He had received calls from a British MP acting as intermediary for the Chinese embassy warning him not to come, but he said he was not sure if it was a serious threat from the embassy. He said he has also reassured the embassy that he would not visit jailed activists, since it would not be possible anyway.
“I took the view that if it was a serious threat, then the Chinese need to do this publicly and openly and officially in the eyes of the world, and so I wanted to see what would happen,” he said on a RTHK radio 3 programme.
“If I just gave in to it at that stage… then nobody would ever know about China’s interference in Hong Kong’s immigration policy.”
After he arrived in Hong Kong from Bangkok last Wednesday, he was not allowed to meet his lawyer and was sent back on a plane.
Rogers said the ban has been very counterproductive from China’s point of view: “If they have just allowed me in to see the people I wanted to see quietly… very few people would have ever known.”
Following his denial of entry, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “Whether this person’s trip to Hong Kong involved an intention to intervene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and judicial independence – he knows very well himself.”
Lawrence Ma, a pro-Beijing barrister, said the Immigration Department has the right to refuse entry.
“For example, for economic asylum seekers… in 2016 we tightened up entries for Indian visitors, because many of them come in using false information,” he said on the programme.
“We have denied entry for people who come in for political purpose[s] – for example, in 2006, a bunch of Falun Gong organisers from Taiwan wanted to come in for a conference for cultural purposes – and we have refused entry.”
Ma said he cannot speculate over what information the government had in making its decision on Rogers, but he said one factor may be national security. Even the courts in foreign countries would not have the power to reveal relevant information, he said.
But Rogers said: “The idea that I was coming to meddle in anything is really absurd… If having lunch and dinner, tea and coffee with people privately is meddling, then yes I suppose I plead guilty to that – but that’s a strange definition of meddling really.”
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the line drawn on immigration control should be clear.
“Falun Gong is banned in the mainland – [the denial of entry] can be justified to a certain extent, not that I support the decision. Is the Conservative Party a banned organisation in the mainland or in Hong Kong? No. Not to mention that Mr Rogers, a private citizen who has no public office, is conducting [a] private visit,” he said on the programme.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said last Saturday said the Article 154 states that Hong Kong government has power over immigration control, and Article 13 states that the central government is responsible for the foreign affairs.
“The handling of individual cases depends on specific circumstances,” he said, adding that he has nothing to add following the responses by Carrie Lam and the Immigration Department.