Even as the Indian government was still trying to explain the u-turn over cancellation of Indian visa to Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa, 54-year-old Lu Jinghua went to catch the afternoon flight on Air India to New Delhi.
The conference being held on April 28 in Dharamshala is described as the first Indian edition of an annual gathering of pro-democracy activists and representatives of minorities – but several of the invitees have become a major diplomatic embarrassment for the government, with India having cancelled the e-visa of at least four participants.
India had claimed that Isa’s visa had been cancelled as he had applied for the wrong category of visa. There was also explanation that India had to take cognisance of Isa’s red corner notice which was apparently not flagged during the visa application process.
Lu, who fled to the US after the Tiananmen square crackdown, went to the check-in desk for the Air India flight 102 at JFK international airport scheduled for 1 pm on April 26. “The staff informed me, ‘your visa was refused’,” Lu wrote in Chinese in a April 27 post on her Facebook page.
She demanded to know an explanation for her e-visa not being accepted, which she had got a week ago. “They took my (American) passport and made a long international long distance call to India. After 20 minutes, my passport was returned and said, “Sorry rejected”.
Lu, who now works as a realtor took a taxi straight to the Indian consulate in New York. “The staff there told me that visa processing did not take place here and that I should go to the visa centre,” she wrote.
She went to the visa processing centre, but a guard told her that the office was closed. “I was dejected, aware that I had been rejected by the government of India outside the door, and it was a very depressing way back home,” said Lu.
Lu later spoke to The Wire from her home in New York saying that she had really looked forward to meeting the Dalai Lama. “I really, really love the Dalai Lama. I want to really show him that Chinese people are also supporting him,” she said.
Lu pointed out that she had been to Taiwan and therefore this rejection from India “really hurt”
Before she left for the airport, Lu said that she did not check her email, as she had done a day before. “All my documents were correct. I am a nice person. I didn’t expect my visa application to be rejected. I didn’t think that a visa application could be rejected 24 hours before travelling,” said Lu.
She played the recording to the voice mail message which she only recently accessed. A machine voice read out the file number and then said “your visa application has been rejected. You can apply for a regular visa.”
On the Indian officialdom’s explanation that her visa was rejected as it wasn’t legible, Lu said that she did everything as required online and did not not attach any supporting documents. “There were so many questions… Yes, I didn’t give any business reference, but I didn’t think it was important,” she said.
Posting a link to a news report of the visa cancellation of Dolkun Isa on her Facebook page, she said that she was convinced that China was behind her travails too. “I have no reason to doubt that the Chinese authorities were behind the move to impede my India trip,” she wrote.
Speaking to The Wire from Los Angeles, Lu’s friend and a Tiananamen activist herself, Rose Tang said that since Chinese Xi Jinping took over there had been a crackdown in many of the sensitive parts of China.
“A large number of governments have fallen one after another kowtowing to China. When Modi took office I hoped he would lead India, the rising superpower and the world’s largest democracy, would stand up against the Chinese Communist dictatorship and show Western governments a good example of not bowing to China’s bullying or taking its economic bait. A couple of days ago, I was writing a report about China’s human rights condition to the human rights commission of the ruling party of a major Western country, urging that party to increase cooperation with India rather than kowtowing to China. Today I’m utterly disappointed with Indian government,” said Tang.
While she wasn’t invited to the Dharamshala conference, Rose did travel to the seat of the Dalai Lama in 2014 and 2015 as a tourist. “I even gave a speech at a Tibetan rally in New Delhi during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit to India in September 2014. I suspect things have changed since then and now I’m worried about myself being barred entry to India in the near future,” she added.
Tang, who has close contacts in the Tibetan freedom movement, felt that there was increased worry among the Tibetan community about their situation in India. “They fear for themselves, fearing Modi’s India is becoming another Chinese province just like Nepal,” she said.
Earlier on April 26, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed that China had protested the visa given to Dolkun Isa.
“Upon learning that the Indian government would grant a visa for Dolkun, the Chinese side has immediately expressed its concerns with the Indian side through the diplomatic channel,” said the spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
“What I would like to stress is that Dolkun is a terrorist on the red notice of the Interpol and the Chinese police. Bringing him to justice is the due obligation of relevant countries. Sino-Indian relationship enjoys a sound momentum of development. The two sides should respect each other’s concerns and properly handle relevant issues,” she added.
The Indian ministry of external affairs on Thursday for the first time gave a public statement on Dolkun Isa’s visa cancelation.
“Look our visa policy is very clear. If a bona fide applicant obtains visa based on furnishing correct information and following due process, there would be no cause for any revocation. Let me clarify the situation since there seems to be several misconceptions on this matter,” said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.
He noted that the Isa, chairman of Executive Committee of World Uyghur Congress, applied for tourist visa under electronic travel authorisation process.
“He was accordingly granted a visa. After obtaining the visa, Mr. Isa stated publicly that he was coming to attend a conference in India, a fact that was suppressed in the visa form and that the tourist visa does not permit,” said Swarup.
Further, he argued that that Indian authorities came to learn later that Isa was the subject of a Red Corner Notice.
“I would caution against meanings being read, either on visa being given to Mr. Isa or its subsequent cancellation. We are a democratic society, conscious of our responsibilities. Those would remain the guiding factors in such matter,” said Swarup, alluding to the barrage of criticism over the cancellation of Isa’s visa.
On April 24, the “Real Hong Kong News”, which posts English language translations of articles in Hong Kong’s Cantonese media, published an article that the Indian visa of Ray Wong, a student leader, had been rejected. The application status was given as “rejected”, but it also added that he “may be eligible for a regular visa” – as per the screenshot of the rejection email posted on the website.
As per the article, Ray Wong had applied for a e-visa as his passport was still held in court after he was charged with rioting during the so-called “Fishball Revolution” in early February.
Ray Wong is the conveneor of Hong Kong Indigenous, which is one of the more extreme organisations formed in the aftermath of the failed “Umbrella Revolution”.
Lu also had a recent Hong Kong connection, as she had attended a reception in New York in honour of Joshua Wong, the 19-year-old student leader who was one of the main drivers of the 2014 protests.
Interestingly, the article says that Edward Leung, spokesperson of Hong Kong Indigenous, still has a visa and was preparing to visit India.
Sources added tha Lu’s documents were “illegible and there was inconsistency with the purpose of her visit”. With Ray Wong, there was “data inconsistency in his documents”.
Mehmet Omer Kanat, director of Washington-based International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, was another activist who was denied visa by the Indian government. He was part of a delegation of three Uyghur representatives, with now only one who has been allowed entry into India.
Earlier, India had rejected the visa application for Rebiya Kadeer in 2009. She was part of an initial five-member delegation supposed to come to India, but she did not apply for a visa this time.
Meanwhile, the conference has been scaled down and gone behind doors, but it is still being held in the hill town. A photo posted on the Facebook page of one of the overseas participants showed a courtyard with tables – with a caption “set up at the venue”.
Earlier on Monday, The Wire had spoken to the main organiser of the event, Yang Jianli of Initiatives for China and he had indicated that the conference, which was to bring together democracy activists from all over the world, will now be completely closed to the media.