HONG KONG • Hong Kong's leader has refused to say why the city had denied a visa to a leading Financial Times (FT) journalist, despite escalating demands for an explanation of the unprecedented challenge to freedom of the press.
Mr Victor Mallet, the FT's Asia news editor and a British national, angered authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong by hosting a speech at the city's press club by Mr Andy Chan, the leader of a tiny pro-independence political party, in August.
Mr Chan's party was later banned as Beijing cracks down on any pro-independence sentiment in the semi-autonomous city.
An application to renew Mr Mallet's work visa was refused and on Sunday, he was given seven days to leave Hong Kong.
Facing questions for the first time since the visa denial emerged last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee, said yesterday the decision had been handed down by immigration authorities.
She said linking it to the Chan talk was "pure speculation".
"As a rule - not only locally, but internationally - we will never disclose, the immigration department will not disclose, the individual circumstances of the case or the considerations of this decision," Mrs Lam told reporters.
She refused to directly acknowledge the specifics of the speculation over why Mr Mallet was denied the visa.
However, Mrs Lam said the government "will not tolerate any advocacy of Hong Kong independence and things that harm national security, territorial integrity and developmental interests".
She refused to comment on how Mr Mallet could be linked to any of those potential threats when it was pointed out that he was not an independence advocate but had simply chaired a talk by Mr Chan at the city's Foreign Correspondents' Club, which has also hosted talks by Chinese officials.
Asked whether journalists could now be punished for interviewing independence activists or writing about independence, Mrs Lam said she could give no guidance but insisted that freedom of reporting and expression were "core values".
Pro-democracy lawmakers said yesterday they would table a motion summoning Mrs Lam and the immigration chief to the legislature to explain.
Hong Kong enjoys rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the press, enshrined in an agreement made when the city was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
But there are growing fears that those rights are disappearing.
Some pro-Beijing figures have publicly welcomed the ousting of Mr Mallet, including well-known commentator Wat Wing Yin who wrote in conservative newspaper Ta Kung Pao: "We only asked you to leave and did not execute you by shooting. That is already the most civilised of protests."