Mainland China frequently denies visas to foreign journalists and scholars—a preferred way to force out those whose reporting or research officials object to. But Hong Kong has long offered a welcoming visa regime that made it a safe hub for journalists in the region.
That may be changing. The Hong Kong Free Press on Friday (Oct. 5) reported that the Hong Kong Immigration Department denied a work visa renewal to highly-regarded Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet, the paper’s Asia news editor. The Financial Times 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.”
The Hong Kong government said it doesn’t comment on specific cases.
The denial comes barely a month after Mallet, who is vice president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong, ran afoul of China’s foreign ministry as well as Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s former chief executive. The controversy began when the Foreign Correspondents club invited activist Andy Chan, the leader of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, to speak. Chinese authorities and Hong Kong officials pressured the club to cancel the talk, while Mallet defended Chan’s right to speak. The Hong Kong government said in a statement that to even speak of independence violates the Basic Law, which enshrines Hong Kong’s “one country two systems” autonomy from the mainland.
The FCC went ahead with the talk, with Mallet chairing the event. In introductory remarks ahead of Chan’s talk, Mallet said:
The fact that this lunch now seems to have become far from normal and has generated such exceptional interest in Hong Kong, and around the world, I think tells us more about the political climate in Hong Kong and in Beijing than it does about the FCC.
He added that hosting the event was not an endorsement of Chan’s views, but a reflection of FCC’s stand on free speech: “The FCC does believe that its members, and the public at large, have the right, and in the case of correspondents and journalists, we have the professional responsibility, to hear the views of different sides in any debate.”
Chan’s party has since been banned.
Mallet, previously FT’s bureau chief for South Asia, told the South China Morning Post he saw the move as a reprisal.
“It has dealt a severe blow to the city’s press freedom, and will greatly affect Hong Kong’s image as well,” he said. “It is really a big deal. How could the government refuse to renew the visa of a journalist without even offering any reason?”
Rights groups criticized Mallet’s visa denial. Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Hong Kong Free Press that a visa denial without explanation “smacked of Beijing-style persecution of critics.” The Hong Kong UPR Coalition, an alliance of civil society groups, said it would raise Mallet’s situation when it presents in Geneva before the United Nations Human Rights Council next week.
Mallet’s visa denial is just the latest in a string of incidents to spark fear that Hong Kong’s prized autonomy is being chipped away, with the abduction in 2015 of Hong Kong booksellers who sold politically sensitive material among the most concerning events so far. Anger towards the mainland sparked the 2014 Umbrella Movement, after Chinese authorities did not expand voting rights in the city as they had said they would.