Rejected journalist visa sparks press freedom fears in Hong Kong

There’s concern for the freedom of the press in Hong Kong after the government declined to renew the visa of a veteran Financial Times’ editor, dealing an alarming blow to the country’s thriving journalism community.

Victor Mallet, the FT’s Asia news editor who also is vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, is effectively being expelled after he was denied a new work visa without reason. The incident follows a controversial FCC event in August, chaired by Mallet, which featured pro-Hong Kong independence activist Andy Chan.

“This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong, and we have not been given a reason for the rejection,” an FT spokesperson told HKFP, which was first to report the news.

It is common for the Chinese government to turn down visa renewals for reporters — for example, BuzzFeed’s Megha Rajagopalan had her annual visa rejected last month after she published stories on the plight of China’s Uyghur Muslims — but Hong Kong has long been a bastion of free speech and free press. A range of global media uses the country as their regional HQ for that very reason, while a substantial amount of Chinese reporting is conducted by Hong Kong-based journalists on account of the trickiness of Chinese media visas. Expelling a reporter — and without reason — runs contrary to that.

“This is unprecedented. We expect foreign journalists to have this kind of visa rejection happen in China, but it has never happened in Hong Kong because Hong Kong has a tradition until recent years of respect for free speech,” Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang told The New York Times.

The situation appears to be a direct response to Chan’s interview at the FCC, which was strongly criticized by the Hong Kong government and China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Former Hong Kong leader CY Leung went so far as to suggest that the FCC should be forced to give up its lease (which he incorrectly claimed was government-subsidized) while he claimed that hosting Chan was tantamount to giving “criminals and terrorists” air time. His successor, Carrie Lim, called the FCC event “regrettable and inappropriate.”

Chan’s Hong Kong National party, which pushes back on increased influence from Beijing, was formally outlawed last month. The ban, the first of its kind since the U.K. handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, was made “in the interests of national security, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”