The Hong Kong government has refused to renew the visa of a senior Financial Times journalist, Victor Mallet. The British journalist hosted a talk in August at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong (FCC) by Andy Chan, the leader of the pro-independence Hong Kong National party.
Chan’s party has subsequently been declared an “illegal organization” by the city’s government, which says it is a “national security” threat.
Mainland China has frequently denied visas to foreign journalists but Hong Kong has until now been seen as a stable base for international media and the action by the city’s Immigration Department, first reported by Hong Kong Free Press on Friday, will raise more concerns about Beijing’s rising political influence in the former British colony.
Hong Kong has semi-autonomous status and enjoys freedoms not seen on the mainland and these include freedom of expression.
“The Hong Kong authorities have rejected an application to renew the work visa of Victor Mallet, Asia news editor at the Financial Times,” the FT said in a statement. “This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong. We have not been given a reason for the rejection.”
Mallet, who moved to Hong Kong to work as the FT’s Asia news editor after serving as the newspaper’s bureau chief in New Delhi, has been a vice-president of the FCC since 2017.
Chan used the FCC platform to condemned China as an empire trying to “annex” and “destroy” Hong Kong.
The Chinese government wanted the event canceled and the FCC received vocal criticism from local pro-Bejing politicians with former chief executive Leung Chun-ying calling for the club to be evicted from its premises, which is owned by the government and leased at favorable rates.
Standing up for free speech
The FCC stood its ground and Mallet, speaking on behalf of the FCC, stressed that freedom of speech was one of Hong Kong’s core values enshrined in its constitutional document and that, while the club did not identify with Chan’s assertions, the purpose of the talk was to encourage debate and dialogue.
The journalist became the public face of the FCC as the club resisted the mounting pressure when controversy around the event snowballed. He insisted it was the club’s usual practice to allow people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum to express their views.
On the day of Chan’s much-hyped lunch talk, pro- and anti-Beijing groups vied for attention outside the FCC venue, and Mallet came out to meet the protesters and accept their petitions.
The latest development comes soon after the Hong Kong government banned Chan’s party at the end of September, when the city’s Security Bureau cited the Societies Ordinance – enacted during the British rule to crack down on triads – to declare it an illegal separatist organization.
The government even asked Facebook to close the party’s page, but the US social networking giant is yet to do so.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Maya Wang said Mallet’s visa rejection indicated a “quickening downward spiral for human rights in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government is now following Beijing’s leads in acting aggressively towards those whose views the authorities dislike.”
Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, told the FT that such a visa denial was “unprecedented” and would add to the “psychological pressure” on local journalists, as well as foreign correspondents.
Hong Kong’s immigration department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997. The UK Foreign Office has asked Hong Kong authorities for an “urgent explanation” on why Mallet’s visa application was rejected.
– with reporting by AFP