Thailand detained teenage activist Joshua Wong because China asked it to
In 2014, activist Joshua Wong became the face of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement, which brought key parts of the city at a standstill and drew international attention for more than two months.
Two years later, his activism earned him a detention in Thailand for 12 hours. Thai media reports that an immigration official confirmed that China had sent the government a formal request to deny Wong entry into the country, effectively barring him from the country.
He had flown to Bangkok to speak at Chulalongkorn University for a series of events commemorating the October 6, 1976 massacre of at least 46 students by government forces.
The student leader, who turns 20 years next week, claims that he was stopped in the early hours of Wednesday as he approached the immigration counters and told that he was “blacklisted” from the country without an explanation. Officials allegedly took away his passport before keeping him in a detention room for 12 hours. He was then deported back to Hong Kong later that day.
I am safe now :’)
— Joshua Wong Chi-fung (@joshuawongcf) October 5, 2016
This is not the first time Wong has suffered travel issues for his activism. Last year, he was denied entry into Malaysia, where he was supposed to speak about democracy. Wong wrote in a Facebook post that he had been worried his experience would be repeated, with his fears realized when he found “more than 20 law enforcement officials” waiting for him at the immigration area. Representatives approached him and asked whether he was Joshua Wong before confiscating his passport and bringing him to a detention room.
“I hadn’t felt this kind of fear in a long time,” wrote Wong, adding that the last time he felt like his “heart was going to jump out of his chest” was when he was arrested the day before the Umbrella Movement protests began.
He further explained that If such an incident had happened in Hong Kong, he would have been able to contact his lawyer, the media and friends to help. But because he was in an “unfamiliar” environment and didn’t even have the chance to connect to the airport Wi-Fi, he had no means of communicating with the “outside world”.
“The result was that I obediently handed over my passport…” said the post.
He added that out of the little English they spoke to him, all he understood was the word “blacklist.”
When he repeatedly demanded to know the legal justification behind his detention and to see a lawyer, he recounted that all the officials would reply was “NO.”
He claims he complained to the police about their failure to follow legal procedures, and that a police officer replied: “You know that this is Thailand, the conditions are the same as China, and different from Hong Kong.”
They also told him: “You know that we can treat you well like we are right now, or we can make things very difficult for you, we’re sure you understand what we can do.”
A year ago, Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish publisher, mysteriously disappeared while on vacation in Thailand. He was one of three shareholders of a Hong Kong publisher that was known for selling books banned in mainland China. Three months later, he appeared on Chinese state-owned television confessing to a fatal car accident that occurred in 2003.
In response to an email inquiry, the Hong Kong government said: “We respect the right of other jurisdictions in exercising immigration control and making decisions in accordance with their laws. We will not, and should not, interfere.”
“After learning that Mr Joshua Wong was refused entry and pending repatriation, staff of the Embassy requested the Thai authorities to ensure Mr Wong’s legitimate interests be protected.”
Wong concluded in his Facebook post that more and more young pro-democracy activists around the world are uniting and learning from each other, and hopes they can fight for democracy, equality and justice together.
The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment did not respond to a request for comment.