Hong Kong government must clarify its decision not to grant visa to journalist
The de facto expulsion of Victor Mallet has raised fears that freedom of speech under ‘one country, two systems’ is being eroded and the issue needs to be addressed to allay concerns
Hong Kong’s immigration authorities occasionally deny visas to foreigners, as do other governments; it is a right that cannot be questioned nor usually needs to be explained. But the de facto expulsion of journalist Victor Mallet of the Financial Times is no ordinary matter of rejection, given his standing among foreign correspondents and ongoing debate in our city about the state of freedom of speech and the media. Official silence is no answer to the questions and in some quarters, alarm, that have been raised about the decision locally and overseas. There needs to be not only an explanation, but also a valid argument put as to why such a move was justified and necessary.
No foreign journalist has apparently been treated this way since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty 21 years ago. Inevitably, the legal protections and freedoms that make our city different from the mainland, as laid out in the “one country, two systems” model under which the special administrative region is governed, are being viewed by some as having been eroded. This cannot be taken lightly as numerous overseas companies, media organisations and individuals choose to base themselves here due to those safeguarded differences. With reputation and image at stake, the government cannot ignore the concerns.
The newspaper’s Asia editor, Mallet is an internationally respected reporter, commentator and author. His employer has been left speculating as to why his visa was not renewed, although it seems straightforward to some that it is retribution for his role as acting president and spokesman of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club during its dispute with Beijing in August over the hosting of a speech by Andy Chan Ho-tin, the convenor of the independence-seeking Hong Kong National Party, which has since become the first political group to be banned in the city since 1997. The government decision was said to have been made on the grounds of national security but, at the time, there was no question in the minds of club officials about giving a platform to the activist, their view being that it was a matter of freedom of speech. They ignored warnings from the foreign ministry and others in Hong Kong about open discussion of independence not being about free speech, but crossing a red line and threatening national security and sovereignty.
Mallet’s treatment has sparked fear among journalists and several petitions are now circulating seeking clarity. Foreign reporters are from time to time denied work permits or expelled on the mainland for seeking to cover stories that authorities consider politically sensitive, so even hinting at extending such a practice to Hong Kong would send a worrying message. The importance of press freedom to Hong Kong means the government has to give clarification and assurances.