The 12-hour detention of well-known Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong at Suvarnabhumi airport has backfired on the military regime as criticism has poured in from local and international human rights activists over Thailand's excessive accommodation of Beijing's demands.
Mr Wong, secretary-general of the Demosisto political party, was detained on arrival early Thursday, two days ahead of his scheduled speech marking the 40th anniversary of the Oct 6, 1976, massacre set to take place at Chulalongkorn University.
Foreign media quoted Thai officials as saying they acted on a request from Beijing in the latest sign of what rights groups said was China pressuring neighbours to quash dissent.
Democracy activist Joshua Wong shows a notice of expulsion offered by Thai immigration after his arrival back in Hong Kong Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
The New Democracy Movement said in a statement that Thai authorities claimed the detention came after a written request from Beijing, adding the incident was "a deprivation of the right to travel and freedom of expression, and a serious and unreasonable intimidation of an individual".
New York-based Human Rights Watch's China director Sophie Richardson said it was "quite shocking" to see military-ruled Thailand "bend over backwards to appease China's rights abusing agenda".
"The detention and deportation of Joshua Wong are yet another indicator that Thailand's military government will use any available means to stifle political discourse in the country," said Champa Patel, London-based Amnesty International's senior research adviser for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak said Mr Wong's detention and expulsion would do more harm than good to the image of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
"The Thai government has kowtowed to China to its own detriment in the past. When the military government deported Uighurs to China at Beijing's request, it eventually boomeranged and Thailand suffered terrorist violence in August 2015 as a result," he said.
"This time, the repercussions will not be violent but will cost the junta credibility problems, as this case has attracted the international spotlight. With a better communications team, the government could have used this opportunity to show that political space in Thailand is more open, especially after the recent charter referendum. Making a fuss and deporting Joshua Wong is counterproductive. The publicity from his remarks in Thailand would be less than the publicity from his deportation."
Mr Wong was freed and sent back to Hong Kong around noon Thursday.
The Immigration Bureau said Mr Wong was prohibited for entering and staying in Thailand based on the 1979 Immigration Act's Article 12(7).
According to the article, Mr Wong was considered as behaving in a way that could be dangerous to the public or likely to be a nuisance or constitute a threat of violence to the peace, safety or security of the public or to the security of the nation, or being sought under an arrest warrant by competent officials of foreign governments.
Mr Wong was one of the high-profile student leaders behind pro-democracy protests two years ago that marked the former British colony's most turbulent period since China regained control in 1997. In August, a Hong Kong court sentenced him to community service for his role in the protests, which brought parts of the city to a standstill for months.
Mr Wong told reporters that he was held in a windowless holding cell at the airport. He said he was not given a clear explanation for his detention and was not allowed to contact his family or a lawyer.
"I actually had a lot of discussions with a Thai official, but because he didn't speak English very well, I couldn't hear him very well. But there was one word I heard very clearly: blacklist," he told reporters after arriving back in Hong Kong.
Mr Wong, who last year was prevented from entering Malaysia, said he was relieved he did not end up like five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared and later turned up in custody in mainland China. One of them, Chinese-born Gui Minhai, who is a naturalised Swedish citizen, vanished from his holiday home in Thailand.
"If I hadn't returned to Hong Kong, I can't imagine what kind of situation I'd be in," Mr Wong said. "Fortunately, I did not become another missing person."
The Thai government and NCPO defended its move.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said: "It was not a deportation. It was a stopover flight and Chinese authorities just took him away. It was China's reason, so let China handle its own affairs."
Gen Prayut also said that while he did not prevent the public from holding activities to mark the Oct 6 event, they should avoid causing public disturbances. "History serves to remind us to avoid repeating [similar mistakes]."
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd reaffirmed Thailand's respect for international law as well as the highest priority for national security issues.
"As the NCPO has the responsibility to maintain peace and to carefully consider such matters, Thailand does not wish to see an escalation of political conflict, even though causing political disputes remains an intention for some. The NCPO has always used discretion and carefully considered the legality of its actions to maintain political stability, based on international rules and regulations. In any case, there had been no instruction or order given, pertaining to Mr Wong," he said.
The new head of government propaganda issued a full statement via Facebook and other outlets.