HONG KONG (AP) — The Hong Kong government has decided to ban two former student leaders exiled for their roles in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, activists said Thurday, accusing local authorities of kowtowing to Beijing.
Exiled dissidents Wang Dan and Wu’er Kaixi both wanted to visit the semiautonomous Chinese territory this weekend to attend the funeral of veteran activist Szeto Wah, an ardent supporter of the Tiananmen protests.
Activists said the office of Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang told them on Wednesday that the duo won’t be allowed in and gave no reason why.
While the Chinese military still views the 1989 protests as a “counterrevolutionary” movement, they are openly commemorated in Hong Kong in an annual candlelit vigil.
Hong Kong is under Chinese rule but has free speech guarantees and maintains separate political, economic and legal systems from the authoritarian mainland as part of the special status conferred when it transferred from British control in 1997.
However, the Hong Kong government surrendered its autonomy by deferring to Beijing’s line on Wang and Wu’er who are living in the self-ruled island of Taiwan, Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Lee Cheuk-yan told The Associated Press on Thursday.
“They had the discretion on whether to let them in, but they gave it up,” Lee said.
The Hong Kong government “deprived Wang Dan’s basic right of entering his own country and contradicted Hong Kong’s values of freedom and democracy,” the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said in a statement Wednesday.
“The decision demonstrates a lack of tolerance, which does not reflect well on Hong Kong,” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday. “Wang Dan is not a terrorist or criminal. He does not threaten Hong Kong’s way of life or stability.”
The denial of entry is the latest case in what Hong Kong activists describe as a growing trend of turning away dissidents viewed as troublemakers by Beijing.
Hong Kong activists have tried to get clearance for Wang at least several times in the past but were always turned down, Lee said. Wu’er was let in in 2004 to attend the funeral of Hong Kong pop star Anita Mui, who supported the Tiananmen protesters, but was returned to Taiwan after he tried to enter the southern Chinese gambling enclave Macau just before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in June 2009.
Wang and Wu’er also lashed out at Hong Kong authorities at a news conference in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, on Thursday.
“The only reason the Hong Kong government turned down our applications was that it was afraid to anger Beijing,” Wu’er said, adding the decision “violated values championed by most countries in the world.”
“Uncle Wah is like my family and I really wanted to attend his funeral and see him off. I am really sad that I couldn’t fulfill this wish,” Wang said.
Both Hong Kong leader Tsang and Hong Kong Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee ignored questions from reporters about the dissidents on Thursday.
Wang and Wu’er were the top two on a list of 21 wanted student leaders the Chinese government released after they suppressed the Tiananmen protests.
Wang was jailed for seven years after the crackdown before being expelled to the United States in 1998 amid international calls for his release. He later completed a doctorate in history at Harvard and now teaches at a Taiwanese university.
Wu’er escaped from China and eventually settled in Taiwan, where he has worked as a businessman and political commentator.