The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hong Kong denies entry to Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth

A pro-democracy demonstration Sunday in central Hong Kong was attended by a few thousand. (Justin Chin/Bloomberg News)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities on Sunday barred the executive director of Human Rights Watch from entering the semiautonomous Chinese territory, where he was to launch a report reviewing human rights practices around the world that focused heavily on the actions of Beijing.

Kenneth Roth was told by immigration authorities when he landed at Hong Kong International Airport that he could not enter the territory. Roth, an American, had visited Hong Kong numerous times in the past, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a news release, noting that authorities did not provide a reason for the denial. American visitors are entitled to 90-day visa-free access to Hong Kong.

Roth had planned to launch the group’s World Report 2020, which looks at the state of human rights worldwide, in a news conference Wednesday. The report’s lead essay, according to Human Rights Watch, looks at “the Chinese government’s intensifying assault on the international human rights system.”

The head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said Jan. 13 he planned to release his organization's world human rights report, with a focus on China. (Video: Reuters)

The denial of entry appears to undercut the Hong Kong government’s claim that it upholds free expression and remains committed to its status as one of the freest ports in the world.

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

Spokespeople for the Hong Kong government referred questions from The Post to the immigration department, which said 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,” it added.

Human rights groups and others are concerned that Hong Kong’s core values, protected under a framework known as “one country, two systems” that Beijing pledged to adhere to when it took over the former British colony in 1997, are quickly being eroded. These include free expression, freedom of the press and other basic rights that make Hong Kong different from mainland China.

These fears have been heightened since June, when the Hong Kong government tried to push through a law allowing extraditions to mainland China, sparking unrest that led to the arrest of about 7,000 protesters. The extradition bill has since been withdrawn, but the pro-democracy demonstrations have continued, with a protest Sunday in central Hong Kong that was attended by a few thousand.

In December, China said it would impose sanctions on U.S. nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the National Endowment for Democracy, for their role in advocating for legislation that supported the protesters. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry did not provide details at the time but said these organizations were being punished for their “odious behavior” in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong and mainland China have entirely separate immigration systems under the “one country, two systems” framework. Roth, in a tweet, said authorities never specified why he was being denied entry despite his probing.

Earlier this month, a U.S. photography professor who has covered the unrest in Hong Kong was denied entry into the territory. Immigration authorities did not specify the reason. In September, an American academic who testified on human rights issues before the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington was barred.

The Human Rights Watch report also planned to highlight curbs on human rights in Hong Kong. Roth will now launch the report in New York.

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