The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) said the government should explain to the public why it decided last month to deny visa renewal for Victor Mallet, Asia news editor of the Financial Times, and bar him from entering the city as a visitor, noting that it concerns freedom of expression which is enshrined in the Basic Law.
The lawyers’ association said the freedom includes receiving and imparting information and ideas without interference from public authorities, and as such, everyone – the government, in particular – has an obligation to respect it whether one agrees with the information and ideas or not, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
“Whilst the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, any restriction on its exercise in a society which respects and protects such a right must be a proportionate response with the aim of upholding a legitimate societal interest and backed by cogent and persuasive evidence,” the HKBA said in a statement on Thursday.
Mallet was acting president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club when it invited pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin, convener of the now-outlawed Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), to give a speech at a lunchtime event held on its premises on Aug. 14, despite condemnations from Beijing and the SAR government.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that it was entirely inappropriate for the FCC to invite Chan to give a speech.
Mallet’s application to extend his work visa was denied on Oct. 5, following Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu’s announcement to ban the HKNP on Sept. 24.
The government has since refused to explain why Mallet is no longer allowed to continue working in Hong Kong but only insisted that it acts in accordance with the law and the prevailing immigration policy in considering any application for entry and details of individual cases are not disclosed to the public. The FT has filed an appeal to the government’s decision not to renew Mallet’s work visa.
Mallet tried to enter Hong Kong again on Nov. 8 as a tourist but was rejected by immigration officers.
Lee said the following day the government will not be offering any explanation for its decision to bar Mallet from entering Hong Kong as a tourist.
The HKBA said without such an explanation, the public is in no position to judge whether the government’s action is the appropriate response to protect a legitimate societal interest.
The association warned that Hong Kong’s reputation as a society – that it is governed by the rule of law and the fundamental rights of its residents are protected – is being damaged, and therefore the government should explain its decision on the Mallet saga so the public could see if there were good reasons for such action.
In related news, the legal team representing Chan in his appeal against the decision to ban his party said in a letter to the HKBA earlier this month that the team had become the target of cyber attacks.
The team said in the letter that the messaging account of a barrister in the team showed signs that an unknown third party had apparently tried to access it without authorization.
Three other barristers also received phishing emails allegedly sent from the FCC, which later told the team that it did not send such emails.
The team said the cyber attackers, based on their internet protocol (IP) address, were believed to have come from the mainland.
It said it does not plan to seek police help since the assistant societies officer who recommended the ban of HKNP is also an assistant commissioner of police (support).
The legal team asked the HKBA to call for an investigation of the cyberattacks.
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