Hong Kong student protesters unable to board plane to Beijing, say permits were cancelled

Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow talks on his mobile phone after being refused to board the plane at the Hong Kong International Airport on Nov 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow talks on his mobile phone after being refused to board the plane at the Hong Kong International Airport on Nov 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

STUDENT protesters’ attempt to fly to Beijing and convey to top officials, including Premier Li Keqiang, their demands for greater democracy fizzled out from the onset, when they were barred from boarding the plane from Hong Kong - further underscoring the pressures they face in trying to find a palatable exit plan for the Occupy movement.

The trio of representatives, including Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) leader Alex Chow, were stopped at the Hong Kong airport yesterday afternoon.

Their Home Return Permits - the travel document issued to Hong Kongers for travel into mainland China - had been “cancelled by the mainland authorities”, said HKFS spokesman Yvonne Leung. 

“Cathay has confirmed that their (students’) return home card has been cancelled by the mainland authorities, so they could not get the required certificates to get on to the plane,” Ms Leung told reporters.

“Airline officials informed (the leaders) they did not have the required travel documents to get on the plane,” Mr Lester Shum, deputy secretary-general of HKFS, told reporters.

Mr Chow, 24, last night queried the decision, asking what the authorities were “afraid of” by blocking their entry into the mainland. “The establishment has always said that the young are the future. But why are they rejecting the voices of the students?”

A Cathay Pacific spokesman told the local media that the Chinese authorities had told the airline the students’ travel permits were invalid. 

“We have received information from relevant departments on the mainland that the Home Return Permits of the passengers in question have been cancelled,” a Cathay Pacific staff member told the trio, footage from Cable Television News showed.

“Residents holding valid travel documents shall be free to leave the Region without special authorisation,” a spokesman for the city’s immigration department told AFP on Friday.

Before they were turned back, the three leaders – Mr Nathan Law, Mr Eason Chung and Mr Alex Chow – were mobbed by supporters who unfurled yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the city’s democracy movement. They also carried banners with pro-democracy messages including “we want real elections”.

“Dialogue is important for resolving the current (situation) but it depends on whether Beijing has the initiative to open talks with students,” HKFS leader Alex Chow said before he was turned back.

Few had expected the students - who had argued that they needed to directly reflect Hong Kongers’ political aspirations to Beijing - to make it through into the capital itself. 

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam had earlier said there was no need for the students to make the trip as the central government was aware of what they want.

It is not clear what the protesters’ next step is.

But the Occupy movement is facing increasing pressure to figure out a road map for its retreat from the roads it has claimed for the past seven weeks, notwithstanding that it has not achieved its goals including public nomination for the election of the chief executive.

The Hong Kong government appears to have shelved any possibility of political talks, seemingly content to allow public pressure against the movement to build before taking action, if any, on the grounds of law and order.

Polls have found that public support for the protesters has declined in recent weeks.

The Court of Final Appeal yesterday upheld a ruling that the police can help bailiffs clear the Mong Kok protest site, following the earlier issuance of injunction orders for barricades to be dismantled. These were obtained by taxi and minibus drivers, as well as the Citic Tower management at Admiralty, who say they are being affected by the protests.

This means that any clearance operations can take place as soon as early this week.

Police commissioner Andy Tsang yesterday warned protesters not to obstruct those executing court orders to clear blocked roads.

“All along, we the police hope to avoid major confrontation and to avoid bloodshed when dealing with these unlawful behaviours.

“As a law enforcement agency however, the police cannot allow these unlawful behaviours to go on indefinitely,” he said.

He added that the latest court ruling “clearly directs” that the police help clear the roads. “The police will give its fullest support and will exercise such other legal power as required to maintain public order and ensure public safety.”

Adding to the protest movement’s difficulties is that there is an internal divergence of views.

While the student protesters yesterday were sent off at the airport with an entourage of supporters hoisting yellow umbrellas at the airport, the original Occupy organisers were nowhere to be seen.

Academics Benny Tai and Chan Kin Man, as well as Baptist minister Chu Yiu Ming have said they intend to surrender to the police this Friday.

Radical political groups such as Civic Passion and disparate activists also differ on the strategy going forward.

xueying@sph.com.sg

With input from Reuters and AFP