Britain demands explanation from Hong Kong over rejection of visa renewal for Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet
But Beijing’s foreign affairs office in Hong Kong says under ‘one country, two systems’, the city’s government has the power to make decisions on visa issues and no foreign country has the right to interfere
Britain has asked the Hong Kong government for an urgent explanation over its refusal to renew the visa of journalist Victor Mallet who chaired a controversial talk by an independence activist, while a top policy adviser to the city’s leader said he was unclear about the reasons behind the denial.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Saturday: “We are concerned by the rejection of Mr Mallet’s visa renewal. We have asked the Hong Kong government for an urgent explanation.”
“Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its press freedoms are central to its way of life, and must be fully respected,” the office added in its statement.
A spokesman for the US consulate in Hong Kong echoed Britain’s concern, saying the denial was “deeply troubling”.
“This decision is especially disturbing because it mirrors problems faced by international journalists on the mainland and appears inconsistent with the principles enshrined in the Basic Law,” the spokesman said on Saturday, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
Asked for its reaction to the British government’s request, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong government said it would not comment on individual cases.
“According to established practices, the Immigration Department will normally not disclose the specific refusal reason to the applicant.
“In handling each application, the Immigration Department acts in accordance with the laws and prevailing policies, and decides whether to approve or refuse the application after careful consideration of individual circumstances of each case.”
Beijing’s Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong issued a statement on Saturday night firmly supporting the city’s government.
According to the “one country, two systems” governing principle and the Basic Law, the Hong Kong government had the power to make decisions on applications for work visa extensions, it said, and no foreign country had the right to interfere.
Mallet, Asia news editor at the Financial Times and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s first vice-president, chaired the talk by Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin in August despite strong objections from the city’s government and Beijing.
On Friday, the Financial Times said Hong Kong authorities had rejected an application to renew Mallet’s work visa without giving any reason. He made the application last month.
The news prompted a backlash from pan-democratic lawmakers in the city and reporters’ groups, with the Hong Kong Journalists Association co-organising a petition asking the city’s leader, the security minister or the immigration chief to explain why Mallet’s work visa was not renewed.
By 8.30pm on Saturday, more than 2,800 people had signed the petition in English and Chinese.
Earlier in the day, Bernard Chan, a top policy adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, referred reporters’ questions to the Immigration Department, saying it had its own policies when it came to issuing visas.
“I am not clear of the reasons [behind the decision in Mallet’s case]. If someone does not agree with a decision, they can make an appeal to relevant authorities.”
Chan, convenor of the Executive Council, said there should not be any special arrangements for renowned individuals or those from media organisations.
Asked if those who mentioned Hong Kong independence or invited people to talk about the subject would be denied a work visa, he said: “I’m not clear. You need to ask the Immigration Department about its arrangements. I don’t have information on this.”
When Mallet, the FCC’s first vice-president since last year, presided over Chan’s talk, the party was facing an unprecedented ban by the government on grounds of national security and public safety. It was officially outlawed last month, making it illegal for anyone to provide it with any aid or financial help.
Approached for his comments by e-mail on Friday, Mallet referred the Post to his employer.
Various other parties weighed in on the matter on Saturday.
The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella body of pro-democracy groups, as well as the League of Social Democrats, NeoDemocrats and the Democratic Party, staged a protest outside the Immigration Department’s headquarters in Wan Chai.
They said the government’s decision undermined the “one country, two systems” governing principle and Hong Kong’s international image as a free city. It showed authorities had a phobia about the issue of Hong Kong independence, they added.
Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung said he would request an adjournment debate at the Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, when Lam delivers her annual policy address.
Commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah, the first official to comment on the matter, said Hong Kong would remain an “open and inclusive” city and the controversy over Mallet’s visa did not undermine this.
Localist group Demosisto, co-founded by pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, said the refusal to renew Mallet’s working visa was “evidently the result of the Hong Kong government being pressured by Beijing” after Chan’s FCC talk.
“Demosisto believes that denying a working visa to a foreign journalist for political censorship is an isolationist policy, This action is not only a serious infringement of freedom of the press, it can also create a worrying precedent for those who need a working visa to stay in Hong Kong,” the statement read.
The party added that in view of the situation, “we will be sending members to Geneva to lobby next week” at a coming UN meeting.
Former television news anchor Chan Hoi-yan, who is running in the Kowloon West by-election on November 25, said there was no evidence to suggest the visa refusal was related to press freedom.
The former political assistant is contesting the poll as an independent but is backed by the pro-establishment camp. Her competitors from the pro-democracy camp are veteran lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee and ousted legislator Lau Siu-lai.