HONG KONG: Hong Kong journalists presented the city government Monday with a petition — signed by more than 7,000 people — demanding an explanation for its decision to deny a visa renewal for a Financial Times editor.
Victor Mallet, Asia editor for the Financial Times, was refused the visa without explanation from Hong Kong immigration officials, according to the FT. Mallet is the first vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, and was the acting president in August when the organization drew fire from Beijing and Hong Kong officials for hosting a talk by the leader of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party.
The Alliance of Hong Kong Media petition posted on the FCC’s website called on the former British colony to provide a full explanation for its decision, a request echoed by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The US Consulate General called the visa denial “deeply troubling” and inconsistent with the free-speech principles of Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
“Refusing a visa in this case, to a bona fide journalist working for one of the world’s leading newspapers, sets a terrible precedent for Hong Kong’s reputation as a place where the rule of law applies and where freedom of speech is protected by law,” the petition said. “In the absence of any reasonable explanation, we call on the authorities to rescind their decision.”
Mallet, who had been travelling outside Hong Kong, was granted a seven-day tourist visa on his return to the city Sunday evening. British nationals typically can enter Hong Kong for up to six months without a visa.
“Immigration officials did not provide an explanation for the shortened visitor visa and we continue to seek clarification from the authorities about the rejection of his work visa renewal,” the FT said in a statement.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ local office defended the Hong Kong Special Administration’s move, saying that visa matters fall within a country’s sovereignty. “The central government firmly supports the SAR government in handling the related matters in accordance with law. No foreign country has any right to interfere,” it said in a statement.
At the time of the FCC event, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the club of abusing the former British colony’s right to free speech by giving the activist a platform. The ministry said the address by National Party founder Andy Chan — in which he denounced China as a “colonial master” — touched Beijing’s “red line” against challenges to its rule. Hong Kong issued an unprecedented ban against the party last month.
The government didn’t renew Mallet’s visa because he doesn’t meet the criteria that he would be beneficial to Hong Kong, HK01 reported on Monday, citing an unidentified government official.
The Financial Times said in an editorial that the visa decision sent a “chilling message” and highlighted Beijing’s tightening grip on the territory and the steady erosion of basic rights guaranteed in Hong Kong’s laws and international agreements. Article 27 of Hong Kong’s governing charter states Hong Kong residents shall have “freedom of speech, of the press and of publication.”
The FT editorial said it doesn’t support the idea of Hong Kong independence, “but it strongly supports the principle of free speech.”
The Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper dismissed such concerns in its editorial Sunday.
“The city’s future doesn’t need to be the concern of Mallet, the U.K. government or Western media,” the Beijing-based newspaper said. “Hong Kong’s political system, laws and freedom of speech are strictly protected by the Basic Law, but Hong Kong extremists and some external forces have attempted to sabotage them.”