The decision to refuse a work visa for a Financial Times editor “creates an almost impossible working environment for media” in Hong Kong, the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) said today, reiterating their request for an explanation of Victor Mallet’s de facto expulsion.
The FCC statement, released this afternoon, came as Mallet, the FT’s Asia editor, left Hong Kong after authorities denied to renew his right to work in the territory for reasons many suspect are politically motivated.
Mallet, who has lived in the city for several years, was vice president of the FCC, which in August hosted a talk by pro-independence advocate Andy Chan, leader of the now-banned Hong Kong National Party (HKNP).
His role in moderating the talk — which went ahead despite objections by Hong Kong and Chinese officials — as well as his statements in defending the decision to host Chan while acting as spokesman for the club, are widely believed to be the reason for the visa refusal.
Unconvinced by comments by Chief Executive Carrie Lam calling such claims “speculation”, the FCC criticized the government’s decision as a “disturbing precedent” which undermined Hong Kong’s reputation for protecting free speech and association.
“The importance of this visa sanction goes far beyond the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and its short or long-term future in Hong Kong; it goes far beyond the FT Hong Kong bureau losing its Asia News editor, and beyond Victor Mallet himself,” the club wrote.
“This visa decision suggests that free speech may not be permitted in certain unspecified areas. The absence of an official reason or a clear explanation makes the decision appear arbitrary and lacking any basis in Hong Kong law and creates an impossible working environment for the media.”
In the hours prior to the statement, Mallet, who had been given only seven days to remain in Hong Kong took to Facebook, posting a picture of a departure gate sign at the airport to indicate he was leaving the city.
In response to questions by commenters asking his destination, he simply said he was going “abroad”.
for many, the decision is seen in the context of Beijing’s tightening grip over the affairs of Hong Kong.
In an editorial written on Tuesday for the SCMP‘s dedicated China news site Inkstone, former Washington Post correspondent Keith Richburg, who now directs the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, called it a “turning point” toward the “death of Hong Kong”.
Noting banning journalists was a common tactic of Southeast Asian dictators and China’s Communist Party, he said the visa refusal, and the ban of the HKNP that preceded it, was an ominous sign for the city’s future.
“Never would I have imagined that one day Hong Kong would be expelling a foreign correspondent,” he wrote.