Financial Times editor barred from entering Hong Kong amid growing free speech concerns

Victor Mallet giving a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club in New Delhi about his book The Ganges in January 2018. Screengrab via YouTube.

A senior Financial Times journalist was refused entry into Hong Kong last night, weeks after the Hong Kong government refused to renew his work visa.

The news comes barely a day after a prominent dissident Chinese author had two of his talks canceled by the venue that was due to host them, stoking fears of self-censorship and a clampdown on free speech in the city.

According to the FT, their Asia news editor, Victor Mallet, attempted to enter Hong Kong last night as a visitor, but was turned away at the border after several hours of questioning by immigration officers.

Mallet, who is vice president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), had his application to renew his work visa rejected last month without explanation.

The visa denial is widely believed to be linked to a decision by the FCC to host a talk with the leader of the now-banned, pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) in August.

Earlier today, Mallet posted on Facebook a photo of some Octopus cards and his Central Government Office press pass, saying that he had intended to enter Hong Kong to bid farewell to colleagues and friends, attend the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, cash in his and his family’s Octopus card, pay his taxes, visit the FCC, sail in the Round the Island race, and visit the dentist.

He said that, instead, he will be moving to Europe and re-reading George Orwell’s 1984.*

Financial Times' Asia news editor Victor Mallet posted this photo onto his personal Facebook page hours after he was barred from entering Hong Kong on a visitor's visa. Photo via Facebook/Victor Mallet.
Financial Times’ Asia news editor Victor Mallet posted this photo onto his personal Facebook page hours after he was barred from entering Hong Kong on a visitor’s visa. Photo via Facebook/Victor Mallet.

He also retweeted a copy of a letter signed by 17 former FCC presidents repeating calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to provide a public explanation for his recent visa denial.

The authorities have still not provided an official reason as to why Mallet’s visa was renewed, with Lam saying at a press briefing in October that it was “pure speculation” to link the visa denial with his moderating of the FCC talk. She has, however, offered no alternate narrative.

The news of Mallet’s barring at the airport comes after Tai Kwun, the arts and heritage center hosting the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, canceled a pair of talks featuring exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian. One of the talks was to have included a discussion of his book China Dream, which has been described as a satire on Xi Jinping.

Ma, who has long been barred from entering China and is now based in the UK, tweeted on Tuesday evening that the talks had been canceled by the center without explanation.

The explanation finally came yesterday in the form of a statement from the venue’s director, Timothy Calnin.

“We do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual,” he said.

Ma, last night, rejected that characterization of his planned talk, tweeting: “I wouldn’t use Tai Kwun as a platform to promote my ‘political interests’. 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.”

He confirmed in a subsequent tweet that he is due to arrive at Hong Kong airport at about 5pm today. He added that he’s worried he will not be allowed in, but was still determined to go.

“It is precisely at times such as this when free speech is under threat that writers have a duty to speak out,” he wrote.

“It would have been easy not to go, to avoid difficult questions. But more and more it seems to me that in literature, there is nowhere to hide. Writers have to look at the wider picture, and search for answers to every difficult question they are asked.”

The incidents involving Ma and Mallet come just one week after a potentially controversial art exhibit by dissident Chinese cartoonist Badiucao was canceled amid “safety concerns.”

*This article has been updated to include a social media post by Victor Mallet.

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