Joshua Wong, a prominent teenage democracy activist from Hong Kong, was barred from Malaysia on Tuesday. Wong and Malaysian human rights lawyers suspect political interference by the Malaysian government.
Wong, 18, was scheduled to speak about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown this week at several forums organized by Malaysian activist groups.
However, he was made to leave Malaysia shortly after landing at Penang International Airport at 11:55 a.m. on Tuesday, according to Malaysian newspaper The Star. The leader of Hong Kong student activist group Scholarism and public face of a 79-day long pro-democracy street occupation last year then boarded a 12:55 p.m. flight back to Hong Kong.
“Why was I denied entry? The Malaysian immigration staff said ‘Government order,'” wrote Wong on Twitter.
點解不能入境？ 馬來西亞入境事務官員：government order
— 黃之鋒 (@joshuawong1013) May 26, 2015
At the arrival hall of Hong Kong International Airport, Wong told the press that he didn’t expect to be barred from Malaysia, “deeply regretted” the Malaysian government’s action, and believed “political factors” lead to the denial of entry, according to the South China Morning Post.
Malaysian rights activists also suspect politics at play.
“Joshua Wong, 18, too dangerous to step foot in Malaysia? Strange and embarrassing,” tweeted human rights lawyer Michelle Yesudas.
Joshua Wong , 18, too dangerous to step foot in Malaysia? Strange and embarrassing.
— Michelle Yesudas (@chelle_yesudas) May 26, 2015
Eric Paulsen, co-founder of the Malaysian civil rights group Lawyers for Liberty, told the New York Times that the Malaysian authorities are afraid that Wong would influence the youth of Malaysia, who are unhappy with increasing cost of living and unchecked corruption. Banning Wong, however, was “extremely foolish” because “the publicity would certainly now generate more interest in what he has to say,” said Paulsen.
Malaysia’s minister of home affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claims he had no knowledge that Wong was blocked from Malaysia and that he would consult the director general of immigration on the issue, reports Malaysian online news site Malaysiakini.
Malaysia’s immigration department will be issuing a statement on Wong’s denial of entry, according to Singapore broadcaster Channel News Asia.
On his return to Hong Kong, Joshua Wong wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that he only has a vague understanding of Malaysia’s democracy activism and has no intention of influencing local politics during his trip.
Wong adds that his participation in the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement led to his being barred from Malaysia.
“Today’s incident proves that not only the Chinese government has blacklisted Hong Kong activists, but other half-democracies or authoritarian countries too,” Wong wrote.
“I’m now interested to know how many countries have blacklisted me,” Wong added. “Notify me in advance, and not after I’ve booked my plane ticket, accommodations, and landed at the airport.”
Wong isn’t the only Hong Kong student activist who faced travel problems recently.
In February this year, Scholarism member Tiffany Chin was detained at Kunming Airport, Yunnan Province. Chin, who is Wong’s girlfriend, was in mainland China to visit relatives during the Lunar New Year period.
Eason Chung, a prominent member of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) during last year’s Occupy protests, was briefly held in Taiwan in January because his name allegedly showed up on Hong Kong government’s travel blacklist.
Last year, Chung, Nathan Law, and then HKFS secretary general Alex Chow were turned away at Hong Kong International Airport when they tried to fly to Beijing to petition Chinese officials. Around the same time, Hong Kong media reported that the Chinese regime had placed 500 Hong Kong students on a travel blacklist.