Hong Kong deports seven pro-Tibet protestors | world | Hindustan Times
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Hong Kong deports seven pro-Tibet protestors

Human rights groups accuses the Hong Kong Govt of squashing free speech to avoid the political embarrassment of any demonstrations involving the torch.

world Updated: Apr 30, 2008 10:29 IST
Min Lee

"At least seven activists, including three pro-Tibet protesters who planned to demonstrate during Hong Kong's Olympic torch relay, have been deported ahead of the flame's arrival in the territory on Wednesday," activists said.

Human rights groups accused the Hong Kong government of squashing free speech to avoid the political embarrassment of any demonstrations involving the torch.

The Olympic flame's return to Chinese soil later on Wednesday and the relay in Hong Kong on Friday are high-stakes events for the local government because they follow a global tour marred by protests against Beijing's human rights record and its recent crackdown on protests in Tibet.

The three pro-Tibet activists were deported after they arrived at the airport on Tuesday, and a fourth activist an organizer for an independent Chinese writers' group also was turned away on Tuesday. Three Danish activists were deported over the weekend. Mia Farrow was due to arrive in Hong Kong on Thursday to raise awareness about fighting in Sudan's Darfur region. Activists such as the 63-year-old actress want China to press Sudan to let UN peacekeepers into Darfur.

Authorities plan to deploy 3,000 officers to guard the flame, which was carried through Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Tuesday the last international leg of the relay.

Hong Kong, a former British colony now ruled by China, is supposed to enjoy Western-style civil liberties such as freedom of expression that are denied in the mainland. It grants visa-free entry to many Westerners, raising the prospects of demonstrations. However, activists said Kate Woznow and Tsering Lama, organizers for Students for a Free Tibet, and Matt Whitticase, an organizer for the Free Tibet Campaign, were turned away after arriving in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Woznow, a Canadian, told The Associated Press that she was put on a return flight to New York. Whitticase, a British citizen, was booked on a return flight to London, Free Tibet Campaign spokeswoman Claire Cooper said.

"Tsering Lama, an ethnic-Tibetan Canadian citizen, was deported back to Toronto, Canada," said Lhadon Tethong, a spokeswoman for Students for a Free Tibet.

Separately, Zhang Yu, general secretary of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was detained for at least seven hours at the airport before being put on a plane to Paris late Tuesday, Hong Kong Journalists Association general secretary Mak Yin-ting said Wednesday.

"Zhang, who is based in Sweden, was planning to attend a four-day writers' and artists' conference calling for freedom of expression in China that coincided with the torch relay," Mak said. On Saturday, three Danish human rights activists were detained and deported.

"Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot and his two sons were questioned for six hours and then put on a flight to Denmark," a cameraman traveling with them said.

The grounds for the deportations weren't immediately clear, and Hong Kong officials have said repeatedly they won't discuss individual cases.

Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, accused the government of suppressing freedom of speech. "The government's goal is clear to cleanse Hong Kong of critical voices," Law said.

"They view this as an important political mission. To them, hosting a successful torch relay means no embarrassments," he said.