Farrow Arrives With Darfur Agenda
Friday, May 2, 2008
HONG KONG, May 1 -- Actress and activist Mia Farrow was allowed into Hong Kong on Thursday, a day before the Olympic torch winds through a territory where most citizens support the Beijing Olympics and where officials have denied entry to protesters hoping to exploit the controversial relay.
Farrow is expected to speak out at a news conference Friday against China, a major trading partner with Sudan, for not doing more to stop atrocities in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Her entry into the former British colony, which is supposed to have autonomy from the mainland under a "one country, two systems" formula, was closely watched by free speech advocates and other critics of Chinese policy.
Had Farrow been turned away, as at least seven pro-Tibet or human rights activists have been in the past week, China would have opened itself to more criticism, following widespread condemnation of its crackdown in response to the rioting in March in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Hong Kong is under enormous pressure to host a safe and orderly torch procession because Chinese citizens, angry with the West's reaction to that crackdown, have staged counter-demonstrations elsewhere.
In Beijing and four other Chinese cities Thursday, hundreds of Chinese shouted slogans and waved banners outside Carrefour stores. The French retailer has become the latest target of nationalist anger over the cause of Tibet and disruptions to the torch relay. Rumors spread on the Internet in China say Carrefour supports the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, which the company denies.
Protests surrounding the relay have erupted in many of the foreign cities that have hosted it, but they were particularly chaotic in Paris, where demonstrators tried to snatch the torch away from a Chinese athlete in a wheelchair.
Even though the torch is now back on Chinese soil, worried Hong Kong officials denied entry Tuesday to at least three activists from the Free Tibet Campaign and Students for a Free Tibet. Three Danish activists were barred over the weekend, prompting complaints from democracy activists here.
A spokesman for the British Consulate in Hong Kong told the South China Morning Post that officials were seeking clarification from Hong Kong's security secretary about why Matt Whitticase, of the Free Tibet Campaign, and another British citizen were refused entry. Phone calls to the consulate Thursday were not answered.
A Hong Kong government spokeswoman said that immigration authorities acted within the law and that they do not comment on individual cases.
Some Hong Kong citizens plan to peacefully protest what they describe as the government's heavy-handed approach, as the torch moves through the Kowloon side of the territory Friday morning.
"Locally, we still have our freedom of expression and free speech, but the recent denial of entry damages Hong Kong's image as a free international city," said legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, a member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has been granted a permit for a demonstration.
"The Hong Kong government has been very stupid to damage the very essential and very cherished values of Hong Kong just because some people may want to come into Hong Kong to attend a conference or paint the 'Pillar of Shame' orange," Lee said, referring to a local artwork. Some activists have adopted the color orange as a symbol of protest against human rights violations in China.
Other Hong Kong citizens have complained that there are too few athletes on the list of 120 torchbearers, which is heavy with business tycoons and pro-Beijing politicians. They also say security was so tight on Wednesday when the torch arrived from Vietnam that ordinary people could not even glimpse it. Government officials encouraged people to watch the event on television instead.
The selection process for torchbearers "should have been more transparent," said Che Kuk-hung, a tenpin bowler who won the first Asian Games gold medal for Hong Kong in 1986 but who was not asked to participate.
On Thursday, Hong Kong immigration officials briefly interviewed Farrow and fellow activist Jill Savitt, executive director of the New York-based advocacy group Dream for Darfur, as they passed through passport control.
"I explained we in no way intended to disrupt the torch," Farrow said in an interview. "We're not the rabble-rousing type."
"We told them exactly what we were doing," Savitt said. "They read a statement to us saying how honored Hong Kong is to have the torch be here and how much it means to the people and that its disruption would be very unwelcome. We agreed with that."
Special correspondent Elsa Lau in Hong Kong contributed to this report.