A Thai immigration authority has confirmed that Joshua Wong, the figurehead of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, was detained for over 11 hours and then sent back home after arriving in Bangkok at the direct request of the Chinese government.
According to Thailand’s The Nation, Pol Col Pruthipong Prayoonsiri, deputy commander of the Suvarnabhumi Airport immigration office, said that China had requested the cooperation of the Thai government to deny the 19-year-old student leader entry to Thailand:
As a result, the Immigration Bureau blacklisted him and held him for deportation. When officers informed him, Joshua Wong did not oppose it.
This report confirms earlier speculation from Netiwit Chotipatpaisal, the Thai student activist leader who invited Wong to Bangkok to speak about his participation in the 2014 Occupy protests, that the Thai government had received a letter from Beijing regarding Wong’s visit beforehand.
It was also quickly followed by a contradictory statement from Thailand’s ruling military junta that there had been “no instruction or order given pertaining to Mr Wong.” Instead, spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd claimed that Wong had been detained and deported because:
Mr Wong had been active in resistance movements against other foreign governments, and that if such actions were taken within Thailand, they could eventually affect Thailand’s relations with other nations.
Wong came to Bangkok to speak at the city’s Chulalongkorn University to mark the 40th anniversary of a deadly government crackdown against pro-democracy students in Bangkok known as the Thammasat University massacre. Wong was supposed to speak about his experiences during the Umbrella Movement; however, he never made it past customs.
At 5:26 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Demosistō, the political party that Wong helped to co-found, posted an urgent notice on Facebook that their world-famous secretary general had been detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport late on Tuesday night. By around noon on Wednesday, Wong was placed on a Hong Kong Express Airways flight back to Hong Kong, where he landed four hours later, and was immediately mobbed by reporters.
At the Hong Kong airport, and later in a length Facebook post, Wong described his time in detention and accused the Thai government of political suppression.
Wong said that more than 20 police and customs officers were waiting for him at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. For nearly 12 hours he was detained alone inside a cell and interrogated. He was not allowed to use a smartphone or laptop, and he was not allowed to call his lawyer or parents.
“When I asked them why they were detaining me, they just said: ‘We won’t give you any explanation. You have already been blacklisted,'” Wong told reporters. “I never imagined that any place other than China would lock me up.”
While Wong said that he was extremely disappointed by the experience, he also said that it wouldn’t stop him from continuing to speak about democracy, freedom, fairness and justice with other young activists in East Asia. Wong said he is in contact with Chulalongkorn University about speaking to them over Skype. Last May, he was also barred from entering Malaysia after traveling there for a series of seminars to speak about democracy.
At a press conference later on Wednesday, Wong added that when he asked officers about why he was being detained, he was told: “This is Thailand, the same as China. This is not Hong Kong,” according to HKFP.
“After I heard this, I asked them continuously – is what you’re doing against human rights? [A]fter which they used a very intimidating voice to say ‘Here, we can treat you very well, or purposely make things difficult for you, you know to what extent we can do this – so which do you want?”
Since taking power via a 2014 coup, the military regime ruling Thailand has been working to build stronger ties with Beijing, often by deporting dissidents.
In November of last year, Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai disappeared from his Bangkok apartment, only to reemerge in custody on the mainland months later, making a tearful confession on CCTV. Wong said that he was very fortunate his own incident didn’t turn into another bookseller saga. Then, in January of this year, Chinese journalist Li Xin went missing en route from Thailand to Laos, only to reappear the next month back in the mainland, claiming that he had returned willingly for “an investigation.”
The United Nations was not pleased with the Thai government when it deported two Chinese dissidents without warning last year, despite the fact that they had both received refugee status from the UN. Amnesty International expressed concern that the two men were returned to China “at risk of torture and other ill treatment.” Thailand also faced criticism from the UN earlier that year when it forcefully deported more than 100 ethnic Uighur Muslims back to China. The UNHCR called this decision “a flagrant violation of international law.” Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the mass deportation by saying that if “there is a problem that is not our fault.”
So, no more tropical Thailand getaways for Joshua Wong. He’s been placed on a different kind of travel blacklist.
[Images via Facebook / Liberty Times]