The head of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth says he was denied entry to Hong Kong on Sunday, where he was set to launch the NGO’s Annual Report.

In a Twitter video, Roth – a US citizen – said he flew in from New York to hold a press conference to launch the report on Wednesday: “The focus of the report this year was going to be how the Chinese government is really trying to deliberately undermine the international human rights system,” he said.

Though he had entered the city freely before, he said it was the first time he had been denied entry: “Despite my probing, the Hong Kong immigration authorities would say only (and repeatedly) that they were barring me for ‘immigration reasons.’ They wouldn’t even own up to the real reason.”

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Roth said in a statement published later on. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

The Hong Kong event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club has been cancelled. Roth added that the press conference will take place in New York.

File photo: inmediahk.net.

The US-based NGO operates in more than 90 countries. Roth – a former federal prosecutor – has been the executive director of the human rights watchdog since 1993.

The Immigration Department told HKFP on Monday that it does not comment on individual cases: “In handling each immigration case, [the department] will, in accordance with the laws and immigration policies, fully consider all relevant factors and circumstances of the case before deciding whether the entry should be allowed or not.”

‘Sanctions’

Last month, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official threatened “sanctions” against Human Rights Watch and other American pro-democracy organisations.

Sunday’s move comes as protests across the territory enter their seventh month. Originally related to a now-axed extradition bill, demonstrations have escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

“My denial of entry pales in comparison to the harassment that Chinese activists routinely endure – jail, torture, and enforced disappearance simply for trying to secure basic rights for their fellow citizens,” Roth said. “But China’s efforts to interfere with the work of international groups like Human Rights Watch is a form of global censorship that governments should resist before it’s too late.”

A string of other advocates, artists and academics have been denied entry in recent years, including US academic Dan Garrett, UK activist Benedict Rogers and Chinese dissident Feng Congde.


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Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.