Press freedom in Hong Kong

Bar Association calls on Hong Kong government to give reasons for barring journalist Victor Mallet as city’s reputation has been damaged

  • Lawyers’ body says local and international community right to be concerned about Mallet case
  • Government has obligation to respect freedom of expression, it says
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 8:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 11:00pm

Hong Kong’s professional body for barristers said the recent expulsion of veteran British journalist Victor Mallet had damaged the city’s reputation and urged the government to give a “good reason” for its move.

In a statement on Thursday, the Bar Association said the local and international community was right to be concerned about Mallet’s case as the authorities had given no explanation for it, particularly if there had been “undue interference with the right to freedom of expression”.

“Hong Kong’s reputation as a society which is governed by the rule of law and is protective of the fundamental rights of its residents is being damaged,” the association said.

Noting Mallet had chaired a controversial talk by separatist Andy Chan Ho-tin in August, the association stressed: “Everyone, in particular the government, has an obligation to respect such freedom [of expression] whether one agrees with the information or ideas or not.”

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Mallet, the Financial Times’ Asia news editor, chaired Ho’s talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), where the journalist was acting president.

Mallet, who was denied a renewal of his work visa in October, was also barred from entering the city last week as a visitor, following nearly four hour of questioning by immigration officers.

The government has not commented specifically on Mallet’s case, but the unprecedented move to bar him was widely seen as being linked to his role in the talk.

The association said any restriction on freedom of expression must be proportionate to the interests of society and backed by “cogent and persuasive evidence”, but the government’s silence left the public unable to judge if that was the case.

It added that the government should demonstrate that it would fulfil its duty to safeguard all the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

The Security Bureau on Thursday refused to comment on Mallet’s case. Asked whether other journalists could be stopped from entering Hong Kong, a spokesman said the Immigration Department would act in accordance with the law and policies to approve or refuse entry after careful consideration of the circumstances.

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The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.

Press groups and foreign countries have urged the government to explain Mallet’s case. Seventeen former heads of the FCC had also asked Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to clarify whether the government still perceived the club to be a neutral body. Lam has not specifically addressed either question.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, who earlier dismissed any connection between the ban and press freedom, declined to explain the Mallet decision, citing “data privacy considerations”.