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Thousands of protesters march at an avenue in Victoria, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong on January 1, 2020. © 2020 The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

“In Hong Kong” – this was the repeated and emphatic answer from the immigration officers at Hong Kong International Airport when Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, asked where the decision had been made to deny him entry to Hong Kong.

But Hong Kong and Beijing authorities apparently didn’t manage to get their stories consistent following media coverage of this unusual and disturbing decision to ban the head of an international human rights group from entering Hong Kong. Hours later, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang offered a different take, saying that “Allowing or not allowing someone’s entry is China’s sovereign right” despite the language of the Basic Law (BL), Hong Kong’s functional constitution, which states that the Hong Kong government has responsibility for who is allowed to enter. An official Fact Sheet notes that “The BL provides the Hong Kong … Government with full autonomy on immigration control matters.”

Geng tried to explain Beijing’s logic with nonsensical suggestions that Human Rights Watch and other foreign civic groups are fomenting protests in Hong Kong. Since the protests started in June, Human Rights Watch has published reports and written letters to the Hong Kong government, urging it to launch an independent investigation into alleged police abuses and to respond to protesters’ demands for accountability and universal suffrage. 

Once again, the Chinese authorities are trying to accuse others for their own failures there – the people of Hong Kong are the loudest and strongest voices demanding democratic freedoms and the rule of law. The current situation is a direct result of Beijing’s increasing encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms and its rigid disregard of the legitimate grievances of the Hong Kong people.

Beijing’s refusal to allow Roth’s visit and its attempt to justify its actions are sadly in keeping with its responses to international criticism of its human rights record: to try to intimidate the questioners, rather than answer the questions.  

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