HONG KONG – Three Hong Kong students who have led protests for greater democracy in the former British colony were denied in their attempt Saturday to go to Beijing to meet with top Chinese officials.
Alex Chow, Nathan Law and Eason Chung – members of a student group that played a main role in organizing massive street protests that started nearly two months ago – arrived at the Hong Kong airport greeted by dozens of well-wishers. But they were denied boarding passes for a Cathay Pacific flight when they were told their documents that would allow them to travel to Beijing were invalid.
“The Cathay Pacific has confirmed … that the (students) got their return-home cards cancelled by the mainland authority, so they cannot get the required certificates to get onto the plane,” said Yvonne Leung, general secretary of Hong Kong Federation of Students.
The student group left the airport, and a news conference was scheduled for later in the evening.
Chow and his colleagues had planned to fly to Beijing and head straight to China’s legislature to seek talks with Premier Li Keqiang and others.
“We would say the point of going to Beijing is really to voice the opinion of Hong Kong people,” Chow said at the airport, before he was turned away.
The protesters oppose Beijing’s decision that a panel screen candidates for the territory’s inaugural 2017 election for its chief officer. Since late September, the students and their supporters have been occupying streets in three business and shopping districts in Hong Kong to express their objection to the Beijing decision, but the Chinese authorities have declared the gatherings illegal and showed no sign of backing down.
Talks between the students and the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government have been futile, and the students said they hoped to take their concerns directly to Beijing.
An editorial appearing in the Saturday edition of the party-run newspaper Global Times said the students were not to meet with Chinese leaders and said their travel plans were merely a show for sympathy.
“These activists may be too naive,” the editorial reads.
“Do they really know who they are and whom they can represent? How can they meet whomever they want in Beijing?”
Beijing has in the past confiscated or refused to renew travel permits – commonly known as return-home cards – for a number of Hong Kong activists, banning them from entering mainland China. Pro-democracy lawmakers are also routinely denied entry to mainland.
Chow and his two deputies arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport amid a large crowd of supporters, prompting security officers to set up barriers to control the crowd so as not to disrupt the flow of travellers through the facility.
The crowd sang songs and chanted slogans, and about 80 of them held up yellow umbrellas, which have become a symbol for the pro-democracy movement.
When the flight took off, the seats booked by the student leaders were draped with a sign that read: “SEAT INOP, DO NOT OCCUPY.”
AP writers Didi Tang in Beijing and Kelvin K. Chan in Hong Kong contributed to the report.