The Financial Times newspaper has described the Hong Kong government’s decision to deny a work visa to its journalist Victor Mallet as sending a “chilling message” to everyone in the city and a reflection of how their basic rights are being eroded.
In an editorial late on Sunday night, the newspaper headquartered in London said: “The decision to deny a visa to an FT correspondent is highly regrettable.
“It sends a chilling message to everyone in Hong Kong, highlighting Beijing’s tightening grip on the territory and the steady erosion of basic rights that are guaranteed in Hong Kong’s laws and international agreements.”
The opinion piece came two days after a spokeswoman for the newspaper said authorities had refused to renew Mallet’s work visa without giving any reason. The Asia news editor submitted his renewal application last month.
Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said it did not comment on individual cases and would not “disclose the specific refusal reason to each applicant”, a position it maintained even after Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office demanded an urgent explanation.
Subsequently, 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.
It said 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, and no foreign country had the right to interfere.
Mallet’s visa rejection has been linked to his role as the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s (FCC) first vice-president, where he chaired a talk by Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin in August despite strong objections from the city’s government and Beijing.
Authorities in the city were at that time considering an unprecedented ban on the party, which they implemented late last month on national and public security grounds.
In its editorial, the Financial Times said it did not support the idea of Hong Kong independence, but it strongly supported the principle of free speech.
“Seeking [independence] would not only violate the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration but would also be highly impractical. Such a move does not enjoy popular support in the territory,” it said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution and an agreement signed in 1984 before Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Mallet, the editorial headlined “Hong Kong’s move against free speech” said, was an experienced editor and foreign correspondent. There had been no criticism of his work.
The piece pointed out that without any explanation from the authorities, it was difficult to resist concluding that the rejection amounted to “retribution” for his role in the club, where he acted as spokesman during the controversy over Chan’s talk.
Mallet, who was away from Hong Kong last week and returned on Sunday night, was tight-lipped when he was approached at the airport.
His Cathay Pacific flight CX702 from Bangkok landed at 10.53pm at Hong Kong International Airport but it was almost 90 minutes later when he exited the restricted zone of the arrivals hall to the public waiting area.
Asked if he had been stopped at immigration, Mallet, accompanied by his wife, said: “I can’t tell you what happened.
“Sorry I’m not allowed to comment on anything, but we’re very glad to be back [in Hong Kong]. This has been our home on and off for many years.”
Mallet came to Hong Kong in October 2016 to run the Financial Times’ news operations in Asia, after an earlier stint in the city. He has been the FCC’s first vice-president since last year.
A source with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed that Mallet had been questioned at immigration and had entered the city as a tourist as his work visa was no longer valid.
British tourists can visit Hong Kong for up to six months without a visa.