Activists beg to attend funeral of 'Uncle Wah'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am

The death of veteran democracy activist Szeto Wah has presented the Hong Kong government with a dilemma over whether to allow exiled Chinese dissidents to come to the city to attend the funeral.

The problem was highlighted yesterday when former Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan voiced frustration at the lack of response to his request to pay his respects at the ceremony on January 29.

Wang, who now teaches at a Taiwanese university, said he volunteered to refrain from talking to the press and making public comments if he was allowed to come, adding he would be willing to stop over for just an hour for the service.

'I just want to pay my respects and leave. There is no need for the government to worry,' he told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

An online petition was launched, urging the government to allow activists like Wang to attend the funeral.

Wang wrote on his Facebook site: '[I'm] at my wits' end - 1,500 signatures in half a day and that means nothing to the Hong Kong government.' There were over 2,700 petitions on Facebook as of last night.

Szeto, known as 'Uncle Wah', died on Sunday aged 79 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was an outspoken crusader for the victims of Beijing's crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement and played a pivotal role in helping many student leaders and intellectuals escape the mainland after June 4, 1989.

Many said they would have been jailed if it was not for the help of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China headed by Szeto.

Since the handover, several exiled dissidents have been refused entry to Hong Kong, including Wang, Wang Juntao, Yang Jianli and Xiang Xiaoji. Wang Dan, like many overseas dissidents, refused to apply for a US passport despite having lived there since 1998. He uses a US-issued travel document which requires a visa to enter Hong Kong.

Wang was on the central government's most wanted list after the Tiananmen crackdown and was jailed for a total of seven years. He went to the US on medical parole in 1998 under international pressure.

Wuer Kaixi, another Taiwan-based former Tiananmen student leader, is also urging the Hong Kong government to allow him to enter. Three weeks ago, he asked the alliance to liaise with the government to let him visit Szeto.

'Now he has passed away and there is still no progress - that's regrettable,' Wuer said. 'Seeing him off would have been the least we could do ... if they deny us entry, that would be inhumane.'

Wuer saidhe owed his life to Szeto and the alliance, which helped him flee China after Tiananmen. He escaped via Hong Kong and later went to the United States.

Wuer was denied entry to Macau in 2009, even though he claimed to be turning himself in as he was still on the Tiananmen wanted list. US-based exiled Tiananmen activists Feng Congde, Chai Ling, Lu Jinghua and Wang Juntao said they also wished to come to Hong Kong.

Feng, who fled China via Hong Kong, said he felt indebted to the alliance for supporting him financially when he first went into exile.

Wang Juntao was jailed after the protests and was sentenced to 13 years. He was released in 1994 on medical parole.

Alliance vice-chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said his group was appealing directly to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to grant permission to the dissidents to come. The Security Bureau refused to comment.

Additional reporting by Tanna Chong