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Academic stalked in Hong Kong hits out at China

[SYDNEY] An Australian academic who was followed for a week by a state-owned newspaper in Hong Kong has suggested Beijing could be behind the intimidation and has vowed not to be bullied.

Kevin Carrico - a lecturer in Chinese Studies at Sydney's Macquarie University - was tailed by the Wen Wei Po tabloid during a visit earlier this month and was the subject of a front-page "expose".

The paper accused him of stirring "pro-independence" sentiment in Hong Kong, holding "secret meetings", and secretly photographed him throughout his week-long trip, as well as on previous visits.

The incident has raised concerns about ebbing freedoms in Hong Kong, including the ability of academics to carry out research.

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Prof Carrico - who has written extensively on Chinese nationalism - on Wednesday accused the paper of trying to intimidate him or people he speaks to, telling AFP its motivations were not "particularly pure or admirable".

If the authorities were trying to scare him away from returning to Hong Kong, that was "not going to happen", Prof Carrico insisted.

But he fears it was "Beijing signalling to Hong Kong to refuse me entry next time" or "intimidating people away from speaking with me".

That, he admitted, "could happen, considering how tense things are in Hong Kong now".

'PATRIOTIC HOODLUMS' 

Beijing has sought to tighten its grip on the city following mass pro-democracy protests in 2014. Since then, key protest leaders have been charged while a string of pro-democracy lawmakers were stopped from sitting in the Hong Kong legislature.

Earlier this year, a small pro-independence party was banned on national security grounds, and a British journalist who hosted a press club talk with that party's leader had to leave the city after his visa renewal was suddenly denied.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 and still enjoys freedom of speech and other rights unseen on the mainland.

But critics have been stopped from coming to the city.

Last year, British human rights activist Benedict Rogers was denied entry on arrival at the airport, prompting London to seek an explanation.

Prof Carrico said he fears the paper has now made him a possible target for "patriotic hoodlums" of gangs with links to the Chinese Communist Party when he does return.

"The Wen Wei Po is essentially an intelligence service masquerading as a paper and should be shut down," he said.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Wen Wei Po defended its article, saying it was built around "clear facts" that "complied with usual news reporting rules and skills".

The paper accused Prof Carrico of making "false accusations" and attacking press freedom, adding it reserved the right to pursue legal action against the academic.

A Hong Kong-based representative of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.

In July this year, Ta Kung Pao - a sister paper to Wen Wei Po - followed pro-independence activist Andy Chan during a holiday to Taiwan.

AFP