Japanese journalist barred from entering Hong Kong without clear reason: Report

Chinese tourists take photos of Chinese and Hong Kong flags marking the 26th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China in Hong Kong, on June 27, 2023. [AP Photo]

A Japanese journalist was barred from entering Hong Kong without a clear reason and was sent back to his country, a Japanese newspaper said, raising concerns over the city's shrinking press freedoms.

The Japan Times, a prominent English-language newspaper, reported Friday that a freelance journalist was taken by officials to a room after arriving at the city's airport Thursday evening. Yoshiaki Ogawa, known for his coverage in the financial hub, was later interviewed for around an hour, it said.

Ogawa said officials only told him that he could not be granted permission to stay in the city and he was sent back to Tokyo on Friday, the report said.

It "truly made me feel how Hong Kong has changed ... this would have been unthinkable before," Ogawa was quoted as saying in the report.

In an email reply to The Associated Press, the Immigration Department in Hong Kong did not confirm the events and refused to comment on individual cases. It added the department acts in accordance with the laws and policies in handling each immigration case.

The entry denial has raised concerns over the erosion of Hong Kong's press freedom, which was once a hallmark of the former British colony.

Hong Kong returned to China's rule in 1997 and was promised the right to retain its Western-style freedoms for 50 years after the handover, but its press scene drastically shrank after the enactment of a Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020.

The law was introduced after the pro-democracy protests in 2019 and has prosecuted many leading Hong Kong activists, including Jimmy Lai, the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily, and other top management staffers at the newspaper.

The Japan Times said Ogawa has been closely following Hong Kong issues since 2014 and covered the 2019 movement but he did not plan to write anything about the city during his trip.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders tweeted Friday it was appalled at Ogawa's ordeal.

Hong Kong was ranked 140th out of 180 countries and territories in the group's latest World Press Freedom Index released in May. The watchdog said the city has experienced an unprecedented setback since 2020, when the security law was introduced.

In January, the Hong Kong Journalists Association reported that Japan-based photographer Michiko Kiseki was denied entry to the city in late 2022. The association said she had covered the 2019 protests and was grilled by authorities about her exhibition in Japan.