MANILA, PHILIPPINES - A former Philippine Supreme Court justice who accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court said she was barred for hours Tuesday from entering Hong Kong.
Conchita Carpio-Morales said she was stopped by immigration authorities and was held in a room at Hong Kong's airport for about four hours and ordered to take a flight back to Manila. She had planned to take a vacation for five days in Hong Kong with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, who were all allowed entry.
Hong Kong airport and immigration officials later told her "there was a mistake" and that she could proceed with her trip to Hong Kong, but she and her family had already decided to return home because of the incident, she said.
"I have never been subjected to this kind of humiliation," Carpio-Morales told The Associated Press by telephone while waiting for her flight back to Manila. She said she and her family did not want to take the risk of being subjected to further scrutiny.
A Hong Kong immigration official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a specific immigration case said Carpio-Morales had been admitted to Hong Kong.
After flying back to Manila with her family late Tuesday, Carpio-Morales told reporters she had repeatedly asked Hong Kong airport authorities why she was denied entry but was told only that it was because of unspecified "immigration reasons."
Carpio-Morales, 77, is a respected former Supreme Court associate justice and head of the Ombudsman, a special anti-corruption agency. She retired from government service last year. In March, she and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario took the bold step of filing a complaint against Xi and other Chinese officials over Beijing's assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea, which they say deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihoods and destroyed the environment.
They accused Xi and other Chinese officials of turning seven disputed reefs into man-made islands, causing extensive environmental damage, and of blocking large numbers of fishermen, including about 320,000 Filipinos, from their fishing grounds.
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua called the complaint a "fabrication." Chinese officials also raised their concern over the complaint in a meeting with Philippine officials in Manila in April, saying the case is "affecting the prestige of our leader," a Philippine official told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
The legal offensive against China contrasts with President Rodrigo Duterte's rapprochement with Beijing since he took office in mid-2016 while often criticizing the security policies of the United States, a treaty ally.
Del Rosario said Tuesday that he and Carpio-Morales filed the complaint "to be able to push back against the bullying and harassment that we have been encountering from our goliath of a neighbor" and Carpio-Morales's treatment in Hong Kong was "more of the same."
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Duterte administration asked its diplomats to help Carpio-Morales and her family return to the country safely. The Philippine deputy consul general in Hong Kong, Germinia Aguilar-Usudan, told ABS-CBN News Channel in Manila that the Philippines will ask Hong Kong authorities about the incident.