ong Kong’s reputation as a bastion of free speech, assembly, and expression in China has taken an unprecedented blow today with the territory’s government refusing to renew the visa of a foreign Financial Times journalist after the reporter chaired a controversial talk given by a local independence activist in August.
“The Hong Kong authorities have rejected an application to renew the work visa of Victor Mallet, Asia news editor at theFinancial Times,” the London-headquartered newspaper said in a statement today. “This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong, and we have not been given a reason for the rejection.”
While no specific reasoning may have been given, many believe that Mallet’s sudden visa troubles come in retaliation after he refused to bow to pressure from government officials over hosting 27-year-old activist Andy Chan for a lunchtime talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), an organization that Mallett is vice-president of.
At the time, Chan was the convenor of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), a small, aggressively pro-independence party that the Hong Kong government was considering outlawing. Both China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hong Kong government officials insisted that the talk should not be held, with the territory’s former leader, CY Leung, even accusing Mallet and the FCC of giving a platform to “criminals and terrorists.”
As expected, in his mid-August talk, Chan did not hold back, likely securing the fate of his political party. “China is by its nature an empire,” he said. “We are a nation that is quickly being annexed and destroyed by China.”
The following month the HKNP was officially banned as a threat to national security and public safety, a first for the former British colony since it was handed back over to China in 1997.
While Hong Kong technically operates under a “one country, two systems” framework, many say that the freedoms guaranteed to the territory are now being eroded away with increasing speed by Beijing. Though China is known to refuse to renew the visas of foreign journalists who report on politically-sensitive subjects, this is something that has never before happened in Hong Kong.
This is far, far worse than what happens in mainland China. My visa in BEIJING was RENEWED in 2012 after I was lead reporter in story exposing the wealth of Xi Jinping’s family. A cardinal sin. Victor Mallet chaired a panel in Hong Kong, where freedom of speech is (was) honored. https://t.co/559GH2faMg
— Mike Forsythe 傅才德 (@PekingMike) October 5, 2018
The government’s refusal to renew Mallet’s visa has been met with outrage from fellow journalists and human rights workers. Jason Y. Ng, the president of the Hong Kong chapter of PEN, a global association of writers called the rejection a “naked retaliation” by the authorities against the FCC.
“This will have an immediate chilling effect on freedom of expression in the city,” Ng warned. “As Beijing constantly moves the redlines on what topics are ‘sensitive’ and out of bounds, the pressure for institutions and individuals to engage in self-censorship increases significantly. The threats to free expression and a free flow of ideas directly harm Hong Kong’s image as an open, ’world’ city that abides by the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, Benedict Rogers, co-founder of the London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch, had this to say:
“The decision to deny a senior and experienced journalist such as Mr Mallet a renewal of his visa is shocking and is yet another illustration of the serious erosion of Hong Kong’s basic freedoms. Mr Mallet was courageous in defending the FCC’s decision to host Andy Chan, emphasizing that it did not mean support for Mr Chan’s views but simply support for freedom of expression. We call on the Hong Kong government to urgently reconsider the decision regarding his visa.”
Of course, a reconsideration seems unlikely. It’s not clear when Mallet will have to leave Hong Kong. He is a veteran journalist who has lived in Hong Kong, off and on, for more than a decade.