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By Venus Wu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - A British activist critical of Hong Kong's rights record said he was barred entry to the Chinese-ruled territory on Wednesday, a week before a crucial Communist Party leadership meeting starts in Beijing.
Benedict Rogers, a co-founder of the Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission, has been a vocal critic of Hong Kong's and China's treatment of human rights activists, including that of jailed student protest leader Joshua Wong.
After arriving from Bangkok on Wednesday, Rogers said immigration officials who were "perfectly friendly and polite" took him into a room and briefly asked him non-sensitive questions.
They denied him entry about an hour later without giving a reason, Rogers told Reuters over the phone. He was then escorted on to the next flight to Bangkok by half a dozen officials.
Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is governed under a "one country, two systems" principle that promises it a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
But critics have accused the government of bending to the will of Communist Party leaders in Beijing and of a gradual watering down of the territory's freedoms, including freedom of speech and right to protest.
The Immigration Department said in a statement it does not comment on individual cases, adding it decides whether entry will be allowed "in accordance with the Hong Kong law and prevailing immigration policies".
The city's leader, Carrie Lam, said she would not comment on individual cases when asked about the incident at a press conference about her maiden policy address. [nL4N1MM1TT]
Hong Kong has, on occasion, barred entry to dissidents, including former leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing and a Dutch sculptor who made a Tiananmen sculpture, though other Tiananmen activists have been allowed in for short visits.
Rogers said he was "shocked" but he had been prepared because two days ago he had received, through an intermediary, a series of messages from the Chinese Embassy in London expressing displeasure with his visit.
"They actually described me, to my amazement, as a 'grave threat to China-British relations'," Rogers said.
Rogers said the embassy had also become aware of his private discussions with others on the possibility of visiting Wong, leader of the 2014 pro-democracy protests that brought much of Hong Kong to a standstill for weeks, in prison, even though the plan fell through.
He said a few messages relayed to him via the intermediary subsequently became more threatening, though they were not physically threatening.
"I'm also shocked because one aspect of 'one country, two systems' is Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong," Rogers said.
"But this decision was not made in Hong Kong. This decision was from the Chinese government. This raises serious questions about that particular aspect of 'one country, two systems'."
The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement it did not comment on individual cases, but was "seeking urgent information on the reasons" for Rogers' denied entry.
"We have always said that we expect 'one country, two systems' to be respected," it said.
(Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Nick Macfie)