Journalist groups submitted a petition to the government on Monday demanding that it explain the expulsion of Financial Times’ Asia News Editor Victor Mallet.
Representatives from six groups – including the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) – gathered at Admiralty’s government headquarters to deliver the petition. HKJA Chairperson Chris Yeung said over 15,000 people had signed the online petition since it was launched on Saturday.
“We believe that the ‘red lines’… will make the media censor themselves and restrict freedom of the press,” Yeung said, referring to the topic of Hong Kong independence.
HKFP first reported on Friday that Mallet’s application for visa renewal was refused. While the government said it would not comment on individual cases, the denial came weeks after Mallet – in his capacity as FCC vice-president – hosted independence advocate Andy Chan at a luncheon talk. Chan’s Hong Kong National Party has since been banned, with police citing threats to national security.
Mallet returned to Hong Kong on Sunday night and was detained by immigration officers for questioning, before receiving a seven-day tourist visa. British citizens can normally visit for up to six months.
The petition’s signatories said they were shocked and deeply concerned: “Refusing a visa in this case, to a bona fide journalist working for one of the world’s leading newspapers, sets a terrible precedent for Hong Kong’s reputation as a place where the rule of law applies and where freedom of speech is protected by law.”
FCC President Florence de Changy said that the visa denial was an “extraordinary move,” but stopped short of criticising immigration authorities. She said that the FCC’s priority at the moment was to seek an official explanation.
She also downplayed the incident’s effects on the FCC, saying that it was not a threat to the club’s operations. When asked about her own visa, De Changy said that she was not worried about its renewal because “it is useless to be worried.”
Both Yeung and De Changy said there were no follow-up plans for now, and did not impose a hard deadline on the government to respond.
Citing an unnamed government source, HK01 reported that Mallet’s visa was denied on the grounds of that the visa applicant would not bring any “benefit or contribution” to Hong Kong.
Yeung said he was unaware of the report, but said that the FCC did nothing wrong by inviting Chan and that their actions were legal.
“No matter if it’s the FCC or other reporters, when they invite Andy Chan – or other people advocating independence or politically sensitive ideas – they are just doing their job as reporters, to reflect different opinions in society,” he said.
In an editorial on Sunday, the Finacial Times’ editorial board said Mallet’s de facto expulsion was highly regrettable: “[I]t amounts to retribution for his role as first vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong.”
China’s foreign ministry has said it supports the city, and warned other countries not to interfere: “It is indisputable that the Hong Kong government exercises its legitimate rights in accordance with China’s own laws, whether it be national laws, or basic laws of the HKSAR,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters on Monday.