Hong Kong Bars British Editor From Visiting City Following Visa Ban

Hong Kong Bars British Editor From Visiting City Following Visa Ban
Victor Mallet, a Financial Times journalist and first vice president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC), speaks during a luncheon at the FCC in Hong Kong, China on Aug. 14, 2018. (Paul Yeung/Pool via Reuters)

HONG KONG—Hong Kong has barred a Financial Times journalist from entering the city as a visitor, after authorities refused to renew his work visa in October, in a move a British official said undermined free speech.

Asia news editor Victor Mallet “attempted to enter Hong Kong on Nov. 8 as a visitor but was turned away at the border after several hours of questioning by immigration officers,” the Financial Times said.

Mallet did not comment further when contacted by Reuters.

Hong Kong’s government said it was “acting in accordance with the law and the prevailing immigration policy to make a decision.” Analysts have cited the FT editor’s case as the latest of a series in which Hong Kong officials have taken a tough line on dissent in the former British colony.

Mark Field, British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, now visiting Hong Kong, said the visa denial “undermines freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

Authorities declined to renew Mallet’s work visa last month after a speech he hosted at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club by an independence activist was strongly condemned by officials in China and Hong Kong. They gave no reason for the visa denial.

Beijing has said any advocacy of independence will not be tolerated in Hong Kong, which it considers an inalienable part of China. The city was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy not allowed in mainland China, as well as the “freedom of speech, of the press and of publication.”

In a statement Friday, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said that in barring Mallet’s entry, the government was “severely violating the freedoms of press and speech, and further damaging the reputation and status of Hong Kong as an international city,” according to the newspaper South China Morning Post.

Pro-democracy legislators on the city council also expressed worries over the incident, saying the erosion of basic legal rights could harm Hong Kong’s ability to attract foreign investment.

The denial of a visa to Mallet had been widely condemned by journalists, human rights and civic society groups in Hong Kong, who saw it as a sign of China’s growing encroachment on freedom of speech in the Asian financial hub.

Critics point to recent incidents including the barring of young activists from elections, disqualifications of pro-democracy lawmakers and mainland-style tactics to smother dissent.

“Chilling Effect”

Joshua Rosenzweig, East Asia Research Director for Amnesty International, tweeted that the effective blacklisting of Mallet would have a “chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Chinese dissident writer Ma Jian has struggled in recent days to find a venue for two talks he plans to give as part of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.

Ma, who lives in Britain, was told by the Tai Kwun arts center, which was set up with government support, that his events would no longer be hosted. Tai Kwun’s director Timothy Calnin said in a statement it “did not want to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual.”

But in an about-turn after Ma arrived in Hong Kong from London on Friday, the arts center said his events would go ahead as planned and apologized for the confusion.

“We have reconsidered our position in light of the possibility that these events might be prevented from taking place altogether. With this in mind, Tai Kwun has made its venues available to the Festival for Mr Ma’s two appearances,” it said in a statement.

Ma said he had been unable to find a Hong Kong publisher for his darkly satirical new novel, whose title echoes one of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s slogans.

“I’m a novelist, not an activist, and am attending the Festival to discuss my new novel, China Dream. My ‘politics’ are simple: I believe in free thought and free speech. Without them, life has no meaning,” Ma wrote on Twitter.

Concerns have also been raised by the apparent kidnappings and prosecutions in China of independent booksellers and legal cases brought against pro-democracy legislators and organizers of large-scale anti-government protests in 2014.

By Farah Master & James Pomfret. The Associated Press contributed to this report.