Hong Kong denies Financial Times journalist visa after independence talk

Victor Mallet, the FT's Asia news editor, earned the ire of authorities after hosting a speech by Mr Andy Chan, the leader of a tiny pro-independence political party.
Victor Mallet, the FT's Asia news editor, earned the ire of authorities after hosting a speech by Mr Andy Chan, the leader of a tiny pro-independence political party.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong has refused to renew the visa of a senior Financial Times (FT) journalist who hosted a talk by an activist advocating the city's independence from China, the newspaper said on Friday (Oct 5).

Mr Victor Mallet, the FT's Asia news editor, earned the ire of authorities after hosting a speech by Mr Andy Chan, the leader of a tiny pro-independence political party.

Mr Chan had attacked China as an empire trying to "annex" and "destroy" Hong Kong in a strident speech at the city's Foreign Correspondents' Club, where Mr Mallet serves as vice-president.

Rival protesters had picketed the talk, which Beijing wanted cancelled, and the city's former leader Leung Chun Ying had called for the club to be evicted from its government-owned premises.

"This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong," said the FT, in a statement confirming the British citizen had been denied a visa renewal.

"We have not been given a reason for the rejection."

Hong Kong’s decision required an “urgent explanation”, the UK said on Saturday.

“We have asked the Hong Kong Government for an urgent explanation,” said the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a statement.

“Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its press freedoms are central to its way of life, and must be fully respected.”

The US consulate said Mr Mallet’s visa denial was “especially disturbing”.

“It mirrors problems faced by international journalists in the Mainland and appears inconsistent with the principles enshrined in the Basic Law,” US consulate general spokesman Harvey Sernovitz told AFP.

Mr Mallet's visa rejection indicated a "quickening downward spiral for human rights in Hong Kong", said Human Rights Watch senior researcher Maya Wang.

"The Hong Kong government is now following Beijing's leads in acting aggressively towards those whose views the authorities dislike."

Hong Kong's immigration department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the decision to deny Mr Mallet a new visa was cheered by pro-Beijing media.

A commentary in the Ta Kung Pao newspaper on Saturday said the journalist had to “pay the price” for giving exposure to Hong Kong’s fringe independence movement, and said authorities may still act to evict the FCC from the premises it has occupied since 1982.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, including freedom of expression, under a handover agreement signed by Britain and China.

But the space for dissent is shrinking as Beijing flexes its muscles in the city.

The Hong Kong authorities last week banned Mr Chan's Hong Kong National Party, calling it a threat to national security.

It was the first ban on a political party since the city was handed back to China by Britain 21 years ago.