Michael Yon takes a break from the work he is doing gathering information for an upcoming book he is writing in a coffee shop in DuPont, Wash. on Jan. 18, 2006.
John Froschauer—AP
February 5, 2020

Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday prevented an American journalist from entering the city, in the latest move by officials to prevent those critical of Beijing from entering the semiautonomous enclave.

Michael Yon, a war correspondent famous for his lengthy embeds with the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, told TIME that he believes he was barred from Hong Kong and sent back to Thailand for his work covering anti-government protests that gripped Hong Kong for the second half of 2019.

“I’m calling them out, I’ve just generally been a pain for them,” Yon said Wednesday via phone from a Bangkok airport following his deportation.

Yon, who runs his own website, said that he had spent hundreds of hours live-streaming protests, including clashes between the protesters and the police, to help bring the world’s attention to the anti-government protesters, who he openly supports.

“There are a lot of people in the U.S. government that do actually listen to what I say because I have so much experience in actual insurgencies,” Yon said. “They see that as a threat, which it is a threat. I’m a definite tiny drop in the bucket of a threat.”

Yon posted to social media on Wednesday that he had been detained by Hong Kong immigration authorities and was being sent back to Thailand. He ended the tweet with slogan popular with the Hong Kong protesters: “Fight for Freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!”

Hong Kong immigration authorities told TIME that they do not comment on individual cases.

“You can see that censorship is going on strong,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook account shot in the Hong Kong airport before he boarded a flight to Thailand.

Rights activists decried the authorities’ decision to deny the reporter entry.

“By denying entry to seasoned American journalist Michael Yon, seemingly to please the Beijing regime, the Hong Kong authorities show a blatant disrespect for he Basic Law that establishes freedom of the press,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau Head Cédric Alviani tells TIME, referring to the mini-constitution that has governed the city since its handover to China.

“This incident shows once again how intolerant the Chinese regime is of dissent and how its interests are increasingly contributing to the decline of Hong Kong’s freedoms,’’ Alviani said.

Yon joins a growing list of activists, journalists and academics whose work touches on topics deemed sensitive by Beijing who have been prevented from entering the territory, undermining the territory’s reputation as a bastion of free speech and press.

Just last month, the head of Human Rights Watch was denied entry to the city, where he was planning to launch a report critical of China’s human rights practices.

In September 2019, American author Dan Garrett, who had testified before a U.S. congressional committee on the Hong Kong protests, was denied entry ahead of expected demonstrations on China’s National Day. And a U.S. photographer who had covered the unrest was denied entry last month.

In June 2019, a key leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing was refused entry to Hong Kong ahead of a memorial commemorating the 30th anniversary of the massacre.

In 2018, Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet was effectively expelled from the city in a move widely seen as retribution for his hosting of an event with the head of a fringe political party who advocated for Hong Kong independence from the mainland. Mallet was later barred from entering the city on a tourist visa.

Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com.

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