BANGKOK — Thai authorities, reportedly acting on a request from Beijing, detained a Hong Kong teen pro-democracy activist on his arrival at Bangkok’s airport in the latest sign of what rights groups said Wednesday is China pressuring neighbors as it tries to quash dissent.
Joshua Wong, who helped spearhead huge street protests in the former British colony, could not be contacted by members of his political party, Demosisto, after he arrived at Bangkok’s main airport late Tuesday on his way to give a talk at a university, the group said.
A Thai student activist who was expected to meet Wong was informed that he had been detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport after Thai authorities received a request from the Chinese government about his visit, Demosisto said in a Facebook post.
Wong, who turns 20 next week, was one of the high-profile student leaders behind pro-democracy protests two years ago that marked the former British colony’s most turbulent period since China took control in 1997. In August, a Hong Kong court sentenced him to community service for his role in the protests, which brought parts of the city to a standstill for months.
The Thai student activist who was to have met Wong, Netiwit Chotipatpaisal, said in a Facebook post that Wong had “been confined at the immigration in Thailand because there’s a request from Chinese government to Thai authority.”
He did not immediately give any proof of such a request.
“I have not had a chance to speak to Wong since he was detained at the airport. I was told that he is still at the airport in Bangkok but will not be allowed in and will soon be deported,” Netiwit said.
In response to questions about Wong, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sek Wannamethee said permission for foreigners to enter Thailand “involves various factors and has to be in line with the relevant immigration laws and regulations.” He added that the ministry is reviewing the facts with the Immigration Bureau and other authorities.
Demosisto’s Nathan Law told reporters that they have been out of touch with Wong for more than 10 hours and could not confirm reports that he would be deported.
“We hope that the government in Thailand could respond very quickly to ensure the personal safety of Joshua Wong,” said Law, who urged Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen to raise the issue with Thai officials on a previously scheduled three-day visit starting today.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement that it was aware of reports of Wong’s detention, but did not say whether China had asked Thailand to detain him — only that it respected Thailand’s ability to manage the entrance of people into the country “in accordance with law.”
Refusing entry to Wong would be in line with recent moves by Thailand’s military rulers, who seized power in a 2014 coup.
The government has shown zero tolerance for dissent and has cracked down hard on its own student activists who have protested the military rule. It has detained students, stopped speeches from taking place and last month Thai authorities threatened to arrest Amnesty International speakers who were set to hold a news conference to release a report detailing allegations of torture at the hands of the military and police, causing the rights group to cancel the event.
Wong was also turned back in May 2015 when trying to enter Malaysia to speak at seminars in four cities. Malaysian officials said Wong was banned from entering the country but did not explain why.
Demosisto, which was founded earlier this year, advocates a referendum on “self-determination” on the future status of Hong Kong, which is in the middle of a 50-year transition period to Chinese rule.
Human rights activists called for Wong’s release.
“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. Wong should be freed immediately and allowed to travel and exercise his right to free expression,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
Two years ago, Wong became one of the most prominent leaders of massive pro-democracy protests that shut down major thoroughfares in Hong Kong for 11 weeks. He and other youthful demonstrators demanded that the government drop a Beijing-backed plan to restrict elections for the city’s top leader, but their movement fizzled out after authorities refused to grant concessions.
Wong was scheduled to give a talk at Chulalongkorn University about a new generation of political activism. Last month, Demosisto scored a stunning Hong Kong election victory when Law, 23, won a seat in the legislature. Wong was unable to join the race because he is still too young, according to election rules.
Chan reported from Hong Kong. AP video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok and AP writer Nomaan Merchant in Beijing contributed to this report.