Six journalist groups gathered outside the Central Government headquarters today to hand over a petition calling on the authorities to provide an explanation as to why a senior Financial Times reporter’s work visa was not renewed.
Speaking at a rally outside Civic Square this afternoon, Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) Chris Yeung, told reporters that the petition’s 15,000 signatories are demanding an explanation over the decision, which amounts to a de facto expulsion of the FT’s Asia news editor Victor Mallet, who has been given seven days to leave the city.
The rejection emerged late last week and is widely thought to be linked to Mallet’s hosting of a talk in August by Hong Kong independence advocate Andy Chan at the Foreign Correspondents Club, of which Mallet is vice president.
An online petition demanding an official explanation has accumulated more than 7,000 signatures since it was posted online over the weekend.
Today’s rally – which was attended by around 50 people, mainly reporters – came shortly after it emerged that Mallet was questioned by immigration officials last night after he returned to Hong Kong from Bangkok. Local media reports that he is only allowed to stay in the city for seven days, even though tourists are normally permitted up to six months in Hong Kong.
Yeung told reporters that a there were no plans for further action at this stage, and that they would be providing any support and assistance to Mallet and his family.
FCC chairman Florence de Changy added that they were waiting for a “reasonable explanation” from the Hong Kong government.
Among those attending the rally were former lawmaker Tsang Kin-shing, a member of the League of Social Democrats, and founder of an online radio station called Citizens Radio.
Tsang, also known as “The Bull”, told Coconuts HK that he was attending today’s rally because there had been a “gradual erosion of freedom of speech in the last 20 years by the Hong Kong government.”
He added that although no further action has been planned, he said it was important for people to still keep protesting about the decision.
“If Hongkongers don’t stand up against this, there will be a time when Hong Kong will have no voice,” he said.
The petition — which is supported by the HKJA, Foreign Correspondents’Club of Hong Kong (FCCHK), Reporters without borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalism (IFJ), Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, and the Independent Commentators Association — calls on the authorities to reconsider the decision not to renew Mallet’s work visa.
The Immigration Department have not given a formal reason as to why Mallet’s work visa was not renewed. A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s office in Hong Kong asserted the city government’s right to refuse work visas.
“The Central Government firmly supports the SAR Government in handling the related matters in accordance with law. No foreign country has any right to interfere,” it read.
National People’s Congress Standing Committee deputy Tam Yiu-chung reportedly refused to answer any questions in English because he had “already answered in Chinese.”
Mallet returned to Hong Kong from a trip to Bangkok last night, and told reporters waiting for him at the arrivals area of the airport that he couldn’t comment on the situation, Apple Daily reports.
“We’re not allowed to comment on anything, we’re very glad to be back, this has been our home on and off for many years, but we can’t say anything.”
In an editorial, the FT said that, given the lack of official explanation about the reason behind the decision, it was difficult not to see it as linked to Chan’s speech at the FCC, which went ahead despite attempts by Hong Kong and Chinese officials to have it scrapped.
The British publication also placed the rejection in the broader context of China’s erosions of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“This newspaper does not support the idea of Hong Kong independence, but it strongly supports the principle of free speech. The decision to deny a visa to an FT correspondent is highly regrettable,” the newspaper wrote.
“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.”
Just How difficult for English-speaking press covering HK affairs these days: National People’s Congress Standing Committee Deputy Tam Yiu-chung REFUSED to answer ANY English questions on why the govt denied @VJMallet visa renewal. Because “he already answered in Chinese” pic.twitter.com/hpA8h0sIFm
— Yupina Ng 吳婉瑩 (@yupinang) October 8, 2018