Thailand on Wednesday barred entry to a Hong Kong student activist who helped organise pro-democracy protests in the Chinese-ruled city in 2014, with his supporters blaming China for the move.
Bespectacled Joshua Wong, 19, was detained in Bangkok where he had been invited to speak at two universities about Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Movement’ street protests and on setting up his political party, Demosisto.
He was later put on a plane back to Hong Kong.
The protests in Hong Kong, the former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, presented Communist Party rulers in Beijing with one of their biggest political headaches in decades.
Wong was given 80 hours of community service by a Hong Kong court in August on a charge of unlawful assembly for taking part in a sit-in at the height of the protests in the Asian financial hub.
Thailand has been ruled by a junta since a 2014 coup which was widely condemned by the West. Since then, the generals running Thailand have forged closer ties with Beijing.
The Thai Foreign Ministry said in a statement permission for Wong to enter Thailand “involves various factors”.
Wong arrived in Bangkok just before midnight local time on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he boarded a Hong Kong Airlines flight back to Hong Kong which was expected to land at 3.45pm (0745 GMT), his party said.
China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked about Wong’s detention, said it had “noticed the relevant reports”.
“China respects Thailand’s exercise of immigration control according to the law,” it said in an email.
Wong said in a Facebook post on Tuesday night that he was concerned about his trip to Bangkok.
“We all know Thailand is not politically stable… It is also clear that it is close to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
Wong was denied entry by Malaysia in May 2015 when he was due to give a series of talks on democracy in China.
Wong was invited by Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science to speak on the 40th anniversary of the bloody crackdown by the Thai army on student protesters. Organisers said he was detained at Bangkok’s main airport on Wednesday morning.
Immigration officials confirmed to Reuters that Wong was prevented from entering Thailand and would be sent back to Hong Kong. Officials said they were under orders not to speak to the media about why Wong had been refused entry.
Human Rights Watch condemned Wong’s detention.
“Thailand’s arrest of Joshua Wong, a well-known pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, sadly suggests that Bangkok is willing to do Beijing’s bidding,” Sophie Richardson, China Director for Human Rights Watch, said in an email.
Demosisto also called for his release.
Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, is slowly recovering from the events of 2014, when months of street protests and the coup almost brought economic activity to a standstill.
Since then, the military has clamped down on dissent and banned political protests.