Joshua Wong, the student activist leader who came to international prominence during the 2014 Occupy protests in Hong Kong, was detained by Thai authorities after arriving at a Bangkok airport late the night of October 5th. The next day he was on a flight headed back to Hong Kong.
The 19-year-old global face of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement was invited to Bangkok to speak at the city’s Chulalongkorn University to mark the 40th anniversary of a deadly government crackdown against pro-democracy students in Bangkok known as the Thammasat University massacre. Wong was supposed to speak about his experiences during the Umbrella Movement; however, he never made it past customs.
At 5:26 a.m. this morning, Demosistō, the political party that Wong helped to co-found, posted an urgent notice on Facebook that their world-famous secretary general had been detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Netiwit Chotipatpaisal, the Thai student activist who invited Wong to speak, said that the Thai government had received a letter from Beijing on Wong’s visit.
Here’s the full post:
URGENT STATEMENT: JOSHUA WONG DETAINED BY THAI AUTHORITIES
Joshua Wong, Secretary General of Demosistō, left Hong Kong last night via Emirates (Flight EK385) en route to Bangkok, Thailand, where he has been invited to speak at an event hosted by Chulalongkorn University. The flight has arrived on schedule at around 11:45 p.m. local time.
We have, however, been unable to contact him until 4:18 a.m. Hong Kong time, when Netiwit Chotipatpaisal, the Thai student-activist expected to meet Wong in Bangkok, notified us that Wong has been detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport. According to Chotipatpaisal, the Thai authorities have received a letter from the Chinese government earlier regarding Wong’s visit. His request to see Wong, who is still currently in custody, has also been declined.
Demosistō strongly condemns the Thai government for unreasonably limiting Wong’s freedom and right to entry, and requests the immediate release of Wong. In the meantime, we request the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s assistance in assuring Wong’s safety.
For its part, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that it was aware of Wong’s detention in Bangkok, but did not say whether China had asked Thailand to detain him. According to The Guardian, a Thai foreign ministry spokesperson said that they were currently looking into why Wong had not been allowed to enter Thailand, adding that the decision involved “various factors.”
Of course, many in Hong Kong believe that the main factor in this decision was China. Since taking power via a 2014 coup, the military regime ruling Thailand has been working to build stronger ties with Beijing, often by deporting dissidents.
In November of last year, Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai disappeared from his Bangkok apartment, only to reemerge in custody on the mainland months later making a tearful confession on CCTV. Then, in January of this year, Chinese journalist Li Xin went missing en route from Thailand to Laos, only to reappear the next month back in the mainland, claiming that he had returned willingly for “an investigation.”
The United Nations was not pleased with the Thai government when it deported two Chinese dissidents without warning last year, despite the fact that they had both received refugee status from the UN. Amnesty International expressed concern that the two men were returned to China “at risk of torture and other ill treatment.” Thailand also faced criticism from the UN earlier that year when it forcefully deported more than 100 ethnic Uighur Muslims back to China. The UNHCR called this decision “a flagrant violation of international law.” Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the mass deportation by saying that if “there is a problem that is not our fault.”
Taking relations to the next level, last August, Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn, an adviser of the Thai PM, declared a love affair that goes back 1,000 years between China and Thailand, and then even went a bit further on his personal relationship with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“At this moment we believe this is the best time for our relationship. Especially for my personal contact with minister Wang Yi who is a very nice and polite person,” he continued. “If I were a woman I would fall in love with his excellency.”
Considering all this, Wong was understandably a little worried about travelling to Thailand. The Guardian reports that Wong’s supporters in Thailand helped to set up a encrypted group on WhatsApp so that they could quickly get the word out to Bangkok journalists in case anything went wrong with the visit.
A similar incident occurred last May when Wong traveled to Malaysia for a series of seminars to speak about democracy, but was instead denied entry at Penang International Airport by Malaysian authorities, and was forced to catch a flight back home.