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.
In a news conference hours later, the student leaders said annulling their travel documents is an unreasonable move that deprives them of their rights to enter the country's territory.
"It symbolizes that Hong Kong people's right to determine their destiny will be taken away in the future," Chow said.
Carrie Lam, chief secretary for the Hong Kong administration, said that it was unnecessary for the students to petition Beijing and that the central leadership of the ruling Communist Party "is fully aware of the different appeals."
Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong are routinely denied entry to the mainland, and Beijing in the past has confiscated or refused to renew the travel permits commonly known as return-home cards for a number of Hong Kong activists.
Chow and his deputies had planned to go to China's legislature upon arrival to seek talks with Premier Li Keqiang and others.
The protesters oppose Beijing's decision that a panel will screen candidates for the inaugural 2017 election for Hong Kong's top official. Since late September, the protesters have occupied streets in three business and shopping districts in Hong Kong to express their objection to the Beijing decision and to demand genuine universal suffrage, but the Chinese authorities have declared the gatherings illegal and showed no sign of backing down.
An editorial in the Saturday edition of the party-run Global Times said the students would not get their meeting and 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?"
Chow, Law and Chung 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 travelers 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.
Jeffrey Tsang, a former member of the student group, tried to board the same flight separately when he discovered that his travel permit was no longer valid.
When the flight took off, three seats that were vacant for unknown reasons had printed signs that read: "SEAT INOP, DO NOT OCCUPY."