Tue, Oct 09, 2018 - Page 5 News List

HK groups demand clarity on ‘FT’ editor visa rejection

Reuters, HONG KONG

Hong Kong Journalist Association chairman Chris Yeung, second left, and Foreign Correspondents Club president Florence De Changy, right, hand over a petition letter in support of British journalist Victor Mallet to a government representative outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Several media and legal groups yesterday urged the Hong Kong government to explain why it refused to renew a work visa for a Western journalist who hosted a speech by an independence advocate, raising questions about promised media freedoms in the territory.

Hong Kong last week rejected an application to renew the work visa of Financial Times Asia (FT) news editor Victor Mallet, who is also vice president of the territory’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

It came two months after government officials in China and Hong Kong condemned the organization, one of Asia’s leading press clubs, for hosting a speech by Hong Kong independence advocate Andy Chan (陳浩天), reigniting debate about the viability of the territory’s promised freedoms.

Mallet chaired the event.

The journalist groups presented a petition with more than 7,000 signatures, calling on authorities to explain exactly why Mallet’s visa was not renewed and to “rescind their decision.”

The Hong Kong Department of Immigration gave no immediate response to a request for comment.

Mallet, who was traveling away from Hong Kong when his work visa renewal was refused, was allowed back into the territory on Sunday, but he was only granted a seven-day tourist visa, rather than a six-month visa that is usual for British nationals.

“Immigration officials did not provide an explanation for the shortened visitor visa and we continue to seek clarification from the Hong Kong authorities about the rejection of his work visa renewal,” the Financial Times said in a statement yesterday.

A statement issued by a group of prominent Hong Kong lawyers, including Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes, expressed concern about the move.

“We would not speculate on the reason behind such rejection, but we do wish to point out that such rejection calls for an explanation in light of its unprecedented nature and its profound impact on Hong Kong’s press freedom,” the statement from the lawyers read.

China’s state media said Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula remained unchanged.

The China Daily newspaper said visa renewal was a sovereign right and that accusations from some foreign authorities were an attempt to attack the Chinese government.

“Foreign governments demanding an explanation know this. What they really want is not an answer, but to create the illusion that freedom of speech and the press in Hong Kong is dwindling,” the China Daily editorial said.

“There is also the allegation that the central government is trying to ‘mainlandize’ the SAR [special administrative region]... However, the accusers’ real intention is to smear the way ‘one country, two systems’ is being practiced,” it said.

The Global Times newspaper, published by the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said the visa denial had nothing to do with freedom of speech.

However, it said Mallet’s actions at the club “damaged China’s national security and undermined freedom of expression.”

“All countries and regions have things which they feel sensitive about and are unable to back down,” it said.

“Hong Kong will get better without Mallet. The city’s future doesn’t need to be the concern of Mallet, the UK government or Western media,” it said.

A columnist for the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao yesterday wrote that the fact that Mallet had merely been asked to leave Hong Kong, rather than executed by a firing squad, showed how “civilized” the authorities were.

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