Hong Kong denies entry to Human Rights Watch director

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 file photo, Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch's executive director, speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea. Human Rights Watch says Hong Kong authorities have barred its executive director from entering the territory. The move Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 follows China's pledge last month to sanction organizations which it said had “performed badly" in relation to anti-government protests that have roiled Hong Kong for more than seven months. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Hong Kong authorities barred the head of Human Rights Watch from entering the Chinese territory Sunday, the advocacy group said.

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director, had planned to launch the organization’s annual world report in Hong Kong this week. The report’s focus is China’s efforts to “deliberately undermine the international human rights system,” Roth said in video posted to his Twitter.

The move to bar Roth follows China’s pledge last month to sanction organizations that it said “performed badly” in relation to anti-government protests that have roiled Hong Kong for more than seven months. Human Rights Watch, the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House were among the groups cited for sanctions.

Roth, a U.S. citizen, told The Associated Press by email that immigration authorities at the airport told him he could not enter Hong Kong. When he asked why, they told him repeatedly it was for “immigration reasons,” without elaborating. He was held up at immigration for around four hours, Roth said, and subjected to “an extremely thorough security check.”

When he asked the immigration officer whether the decision was being made in Beijing or Hong Kong, she insisted it was being made in Hong Kong, Roth said.

Roth has visited Hong Kong numerous times and this is the first time he has been denied entry, he said. The last time he visited the city was in April 2018 to hold a press conference about Human Rights Watch’s report on gender discrimination in the Chinese job market.

“All that was uneventful, as had been my prior trips to Hong Kong,” he recalled. “It’s a sad testament to the deterioration in basic freedoms in Hong Kong that I would be barred less than two years later.”

Mass demonstrations — underpinned by a distrust of China’s ruling Communist Party — began in Hong Kong in June, with protesters rallying against an extradition bill that was later withdrawn. The movement has since expanded to include demands for electoral reform and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. Under the framework of “one country, two systems,” the territory was promised greater democratic rights than are afforded to the mainland. But protesters say their liberties have been steadily eroding under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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