Actress Mia Farrow was briefly questioned at Hong Kong’s airport Thursday before officials allowed her to enter the Chinese territory to give a speech criticizing China’s relations with Sudan.
Farrow’s entry to Hong Kong is seen as one indication of how free the city will be while hosting the torch. Officials here are under great pressure from Beijing to ensure a trouble-free relay, after protests have disrupted the run on several of its international stops.
To help ensure the relay goes smoothly, Hong Kong authorities deported several pro-Tibet protesters and rights activists in the past week.
Officials didn’t immediately stamp Farrow’s passport because they were concerned she might cause problems during the event, the actress said.
“They wanted some reassurance that we were not here to disrupt the torch relay, which of course we are not,” Farrow said.
Blocking Farrow from entering Hong Kong would have sparked a firestorm of criticism as China is already taking heat for a recent crackdown on riots in Tibet. But allowing her into the city may attract attention away from the torch relay, which has been disrupted repeatedly by pro-Tibet demonstrators, and embarrass Beijing’s leadership.
Hong Kong was a British colony until it was handed back to China in 1997. Although it is part of China now, the city is supposed to enjoy a wide degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula.
Hong Kongers enjoy civil liberties — like freedom of speech and the right to protest — that people in the rest of China do not. But the city’s government has been known to restrict these freedoms during sensitive times.
On Thursday, Associated Press Television News filmed Farrow as she arrived in Hong Kong on a flight from New York. After she stepped up to the immigration desk to have her passport stamped, an officer talked to her briefly. Farrow was then escorted away by immigration officers.
After about a half hour, Farrow and an activist traveling with her, Jill Savitt, were allowed to pick up their luggage and enter the territory.
In an interview later Thursday, Farrow told The Associated Press she hoped to light a symbolic torch honoring the victims of fighting in Darfur — but away from the Olympic torch relay.
She said the immigration officials treated her politely and did not search her luggage, but warned her to not to disrupt law and order.
The torch’s arrival in Hong Kong on Wednesday marks its return to Chinese soil.
Farrow has been vocal about world response to the crisis in Darfur, a region in Sudan where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes amid four years of fighting between local rebels and government-allied janjaweed militias.
She has been particularly critical of China, one of Sudan’s biggest trading partners. Beijing buys oil from the African nation and sells it weapons. Activists want Beijing to use its influence to pressure Sudan to stop the violence.
Farrow said China could easily act on Darfur, given its strong business ties to Sudan.
“China has a unique business relationship with Khartoum that the United Nations and no nation of the world has,” she said.
Farrow said Darfur was an easier issue to lobby China on than Tibet, although she said she sympathized with the Tibetan cause.
“Darfur is what we call the low-hanging fruit. It’s easy picking. For the Tibetans, it’s more difficult, given China’s view of Tibet and the many years that China has held this view,” Farrow said.
Meanwhile, a leading human rights group urged Nepal’s government on Thursday to cancel orders for security forces on Mount Everest to shoot if necessary to stop protests during China’s Olympic torch relay up the world’s highest mountain.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had written to Nepal’s prime minister asking him “to immediately rescind these orders.” There was no comment Thursday from the prime minister’s office.
The relay up Everest will take place on the Chinese side of the mountain. But Nepal’s government, under pressure from Beijing, has posted soldiers on its side and banned climbing near the summit from Thursday through May 10.
Nepalese officials have said the soldiers and police have orders to stop protests on the mountain using whatever means necessary, although the use of deadly force is authorized only as a last resort.