Hong Kong refuses to renew British journalist’s visa

Hong Kong has refused to renew the visa of a British journalist, an “unprecedented” move against foreign media in the city amid concerns that Beijing is seeking to exert more influence over semi-autonomous territory.

Authorities refused to renew the visa of Victor Mallet, the Financial Times’ Asia news editor and vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), which incurred Beijing’s wrath by allowing a pro-independence activist to speak at one its events in August.

“The Hong Kong authorities have rejected an application to renew the work visa of Victor Mallet,” the Financial Times confirmed in a statement. “This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong, and we have not been given a reason for the rejection.”

The Hong Kong government told CNN it doesn’t comment on individual cases, and each application is considered in accordance with prevailing laws and policies.

As the FCC’s acting head, Mallet played a prominent role in the club’s refusal to cave in to Beijing’s demands to cancel the talk by Andy Chan, founder of the fringe Hong Kong National Party.

Mallet has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years for Reuters and the Financial Times. He’s spent 12 years in Asia, working in Thailand, Cambodia, India and Hong Kong.

The latest move by Hong Kong authorities has highlighted an intensifying battle over free speech and the rule of law in the territory.

“This is shocking and unprecedented,” said Maya Wang, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong authorities’ visa renewal rejection — without explanation — of a journalist who’s done nothing more than his job smacks of Beijing-style persecution of critics.”

Hong Kong enjoys freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and freedom of association, which are guaranteed by the 50-year handover agreement signed by China and Britain, the territory’s former colonial power.

But fears are mounting that Beijing is eroding those freedoms, raising the prospect of Hong Kong facing restrictions previously only imposed on the mainland.

Last month, Hong Kong officially banned the Hong Kong National Party on the grounds of national security, also an unprecedented move.

“Together with the recent and also unprecedented banning of the Hong Kong National Party, the visa rejection indicates a quickening downward spiral for human rights in Hong Kong: that the Hong Kong government is now following Beijing’s leads in acting aggressively towards those whose views the authorities dislike,” added Wang.

Britain voiced concern about the ban on the party as it has done before over curbs on Hong Kong’s freedoms, including after the disappearance of several booksellers who later claimed they’d been questioned by authorities in China.

Foreign journalists on the mainland have often struggled to get or renew visas, which are tightly controlled by the Foreign Ministry. Last month Buzzfeed’s China reporter said she was forced to leave the country.

Ahead of Chan’s speech in Hong Kong, the FCC said it had received “representations” from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), though it did not elaborate on what was communicated.

The FCC responded by issuing a statement, saying it was “vitally important to allow people to speak and debate freely, even if one does not agree with their particular views.”

Mallet chaired the talk in which Chan addressed a packed FCC and tens of thousands on a live Facebook feed. Chan equated Hong Kong’s position under China to its former colonial past.

MOFA called the speech an “abuse of freedoms of press and speech” and accused the FCC of endorsing his views.

Chan has largely operated on the periphery of Hong Kong politics since becoming an activist during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. His party, which he founded in 2016, had a few dozen members.