Student leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests are officially persona non grata on the Chinese mainland after they were not allowed to board a flight to Beijing where they planned to press their demands for free local elections.
Alex Chow, Eason Chung and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) were booked to fly to the Chinese capital on Saturday but were refused entry after their return-home cards — equivalent to a permanent visa given to Hong Kong residents of Chinese ancestry – were revoked by the mainland authorities.
Chow told reporters that the trip was "to voice the opinion of Hong Kong people" to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. "The movement in Hong Kong will be ongoing," he adds. "Hong Kong people have been pursuing democracy and democratic reform for more than three decades and we are still on our way to restructure the concept of democracy."
The HKFS trio intended to urge Li to reconsider an Aug. 31 decision by the Chinese Communist Party that said all candidates standing for election for Hong Kong's top job of chief executive in 2017 must first be vetted by a 1,200-strong nominating committee perceived as loyal to Beijing.
Democracy activists see this as a betrayal and tens of thousands of protesters have occupied three main thoroughfares of Hong Kong since Sept. 28, although numbers have dwindled significantly in recent weeks. Pressure is mounting on student leaders to clear the streets as discontent grows about the ongoing disruption to transport and local businesses.
According to local media, the Hong Kong government may enforce multiple injunctions against the protesters as soon as Monday or Tuesday, and the Beijing foray was seen as something of a last resort after discussions with city officials mired.
"We don't want to go to Beijing, but [Hong Kong's top civil servant] Carrie Lam says not all of Hong Kong's problems can be solved by the Hong Kong government," Chung told media the night before their scheduled departure. Lam said Tuesday that there was "no need" for the students to go to Beijing if they were going to repeat the same demands they have made of the Hong Kong government. The HKFS received a similar response from former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, after they sent an open letter beseeching him to set up a meeting with Beijing authorities.
The entry denial was largely expected; a member of Scholarism, another student group championing the protests, was denied entry into the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, earlier in the week, according to local news channel RTHK.