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Activists Applaud Hong Kong's Decision to Allow Return of US Scholar - 2001-07-31

Pro-democracy and human rights activists in Hong Kong are applauding the government's decision to allow U.S. scholar Li Shaomin to return to his home in the Chinese territory. The decision comes two weeks after Beijing convicted the academic on espionage charges. The Li case is being seen as another test of Hong Kong's promised legal autonomy from mainland China.

A smiling Li Shaomin arrived in Hong Kong with his wife and daughter Monday night from the United States. Beijing deported him there last week after he was convicted July 15 on charges of spying for Taiwan.

The academic's return surprised many people in the territory who had feared that the Hong Kong government, in deference to Beijing, would try to block the scholar's entry.

Li Shaomin, who is a U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, holds a valid work permit to work as a professor at Hong Kong's City University. He was teaching there when he was arrested in China and detained for more than four months prior to his conviction.

Hong Kong immigration officials say the Li family was allowed to enter the territory after they satisfactorily answered all questions during a five-hour interrogation session at the airport.

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman, Sophia Woodman in Hong Kong says she is very pleased with the government's decision regarding the case. "The Hong Kong government did the right thing because from the information available about what he has alleged to have done, there is no way it would be considered spying.," she says. " And since he holds a valid work visa, it's entirely appropriate that he be allowed to return. "

Hong Kong was reunited with China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule. A policy known as "one country, two systems" keeps Hong Kong highly autonomous from Beijing. But since the handover, the Hong Kong government has been severely criticized for appearing too eager to please Beijing.

The government has declined to comment directly on the decision to let Li Shaomin come back to the territory. But Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang says officials will always act in accordance with the law on such issues.

What is still not clear, however, is whether a man convicted of a serious crime in China would be allowed to resume his career here. City University has been vague about Li Shaomin's future status drawing criticism that the school is more interested in being on good terms with the Beijing leadership than preserving academic freedom.