A photography professor at a US university was denied entry to Hong Kong on Thursday. Matthew Connors covered the ongoing protests last year, where he was arrested by police but released shortly afterwards.

Connors, a professor in photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, was detained by immigration officials at around 7:30pm for around five hours before being put on a flight back to New York at around 1am on Friday.

“Immigration officers told me repeatedly that, based on the interview they conducted with me, I did not ‘meet the immigration requirements.’ I asked them to be more specific several times, but they would not provide more information,” Connors told HKFP.

Matthew Connors
Matthew Connors. Photo: MassArt.

Connors said it would have been his third trip to Hong Kong since the anti-extradition law protests began last June.

He was arrested during his first visit in August near a protest site, when officers stopped him and requested a press pass. He said he was independent and did not have a one.

Officers then requested identification and Conners showed his New York State driver’s license and faculty identity card. But he was still detained because he was not carrying a passport.

He said he was searched and held for several hours at a police station. He was questioned and given a case number.

“It is unclear to me if charges were ever filed, but if they were, I believe they were dropped after I was able to retrieve my passport from my hotel. I returned to New York about a week after that,” he said.

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The situation in Hong Kong is liquid

A post shared by Matthew Connors (@matthewconnors_) on

When he was detained, he said the interview was “strangely informal.”

“The immigration officers seemed indifferent to most of my answers, taking lackluster notes, though they asked the most follow up questions about the book I published about the Egyptian Revolution,” he said.

But Connors said he did not believe the arrest in August was related to his denial of entry, because he was able to enter Hong Kong for a second visit in late September without any issue.

Connors’ photos shot during the second trip were published by The California Sunday Magazine in November.

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Silent moments in Hong Kong tonight

A post shared by Matthew Connors (@matthewconnors_) on

“This turn of events has saddened me, both personally and for what it signals about the further erosion of freedoms the government claims to be maintaining. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Hong Kong’s Pro-democracy movement these past 7 months and feel lucky to have glimpsed the deep currents of creativity and fervor that are fueling the demonstrators’ demands for greater agency over their futures,” he said.

“I’ve also made some good friends in the city and came to love its frenetic beauty and collisions of architecture and nature. The prospect that I may never be able to return is weighing on me.”

The Immigration Department told HKFP that it does not comment on individual cases.

“In handling each immigration case, the ImmD will, having regard to the circumstances pertaining to each individual case, decide whether the entry will be allowed or refused in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong and prevailing immigration policies,” it said.

Last September, US academic Dan Garrett was barred from entering Hong Kong, a week after he testified at the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in Washington DC about the ongoing demonstrations.

Large-scale protests have continued for almost seven months. Initially against a now-withdrawn extradition bill, the protests have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police action, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.