Date
21 October 2018
File photo of Financial Times' Asia news editor Victor Mallet (right) with pro-independence activist Andy Chan during the latter's luncheon speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club on Aug. 14. Photo: Reuters
File photo of Financial Times' Asia news editor Victor Mallet (right) with pro-independence activist Andy Chan during the latter's luncheon speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club on Aug. 14. Photo: Reuters

EU, AmCham raise doubts on HK press freedom after visa denial

The European Union Office and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong have expressed concerns over the Immigration Department’s decision to reject a British journalist’s application for renewal of his work visa, but the government continued to refuse to explain its action.

The European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao said the government’s move to deny Financial Times’ Asia news editor, Victor Mallet, a working visa “sets a worrying precedent”, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

“In the absence of a credible alternative explanation from the authorities, the decision appears politically motivated and therefore raises serious concerns about freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Hong Kong. It risks damaging Hong Kong’s international standing and trust in the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” the European Union Office said in a statement on Monday.

Mallet was acting president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club when it hosted a luncheon speech by pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin in defiance of a government warning.

The office said non-renewal of Mallet’s working visa has cast doubts on the freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Hong Kong, both of which are protected by the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It said he hoped the government would offer an explanation for its decision.

The call came after Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Saturday that Hong Kong needs to offer “an urgent explanation” as to why Mallet was unable to have his working visa extended, while the US Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau described the visa refusal as a “deeply troubling” incident.

A government spokesman said the Immigration Department would evaluate each visa application in accordance with relevant laws and prevailing policies, no reasons would normally be given for refusals, and the department would not comment specifically on Mallet’s case, RTHK reported.

Several journalist groups staged a protest outside the government’s headquarters on Monday to condemn the decision on Mallet, who was instead issued a tourist visa that is valid for only seven days.

Also on Monday, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong said in a statement: “Hong Kong has long been an open environment for journalists and editors” and therefore the government simply cannot brush off incidents like the one involving Mallet by calling them individual or isolated events every time they happen.

The AmCham stressed transparency is one of the city’s  “core values”, and “Hong Kong ought to make it clear to the international business community that free speech and free flow of information in this world city is still sound enough for business to consider Hong Kong as an important hub”.

Tara Joseph, president of the chamber, said the decision on Mallet “sends a worrying signal” since “capital markets cannot properly function, and business and trade cannot be reliably conducted” without a free press.

Any effort to curtail press freedom in Hong Kong could damage the city’s competitiveness as a leading financial and trading center, the statement said.

In response to the controversy, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the Immigration Department makes the decision on whether to grant a work visa to an applicant in accordance with Hong Kong laws, government policies and the circumstances surrounding each case, and it is unquestionable that not every application can be granted.

Cheung said it is in line with international practice that explanations for work visa-related decisions are not made public. He also stressed all of the 80 foreign media outlets currently operating in Hong Kong enjoy the same freedoms of the press and of speech as their local counterparts do.

Tam Yiu-chung, the sole Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, said he could not understand why Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office was urging the Hong Kong government to provide “an urgent explanation” on the issue when the city is not the only place in the world that does not give the reason for denial of a visa application.

Speaking to media ahead of the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it is “pure speculation” that the refusal of Mallet’s work visa application is linked to the controversial talk at the FCC, RTHK reported.

As a rule locally and internationally, “the Immigration Department will not disclose the individual circumstances of the case or the considerations of this decision”, Lam said.

“So I cannot comment on your speculations,” she said in response to a reporter’s question.

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TL/JC/CG

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