The Financial Times says it will appeal the controversial refusal of a working visa to one of its journalists in Hong Kong, as the city’s leader continued to refuse to explain her government’s decision.
On Sunday, the FT’s Asia editor Victor Mallet was given seven days leave to remain in Hong Kong after his application for a routine extension of his work permit was denied, months after he hosted a talk by a pro-independence activist at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club.
“In the absence of an explanation from the Hong Kong authorities, the FT is appealing the recent rejection of a renewed work visa for Victor Mallet,” the newspaper said in a statement.
That move came amid growing criticism of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam by media and business groups, and the scandal threatens to overshadow her annual policy address Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Lam said it was “pure speculation” to connect Mallet’s expulsion with the August talk by Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) founder Andy Chan, whose organization was banned last month.
“As a rule, not only locally, but internationally, we will never disclose, the Immigration Department will not disclose the individual circumstances of the case or the considerations of his decision,” she added.
When asked whether media organizations could face repercussions if they interviewed pro-independence figures in the future, Lam responded by referring to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution.
“Freedom of expression, freedom of reporting are core values in Hong Kong, and as the Chief Executive, I … will safeguard all these rights as enshrined in the Basic Law,” Lam said. “Every act, every case will be dealt with in accordance with the law, the policy and the circumstances, including the facts of the case.”
She was also asked about the issue multiple times following her Wednesday policy address, and refused to answer a question from CNN about whether the crackdown on HKNP came from her or the central government, though she said the party was entitled to appeal the decision.
‘Absence of an explanation’
Mallet’s expulsion has dominated front pages in recent days, capping years of growing concerns about press freedom in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Pro-democracy lawmakers said they would attempt to summon Lam and her ministers responsible for security and immigration to appear before the legislature to explain the decision.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt reiterated London’s concern about “the Hong Kong authorities’ unprecedented rejection of a visa for senior British journalist Victor Mallet.”
“In the absence of an explanation from the authorities we can only conclude that this move is politically motivated,” he said.
“This undermines Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of the press … I urge the Hong Kong authorities to reconsider this decision. Confidence in Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms is an essential component of its future success.”
Representatives of the governments of Canada, Australia and the US have all issued similar statements. Lam said Wednesday she would be pleased to meet with Hunt if he came to Hong Kong.
There has also been criticism from the city’s business community, with the American Chamber of Commerce saying earlier this week that incidents such as Mallet’s expulsion “cannot be brushed off as individual, isolated events every time they happen.”
“The rejection of a renewal of work visa for FT correspondent Victor Mallet sends a worrying signal. Without a free press, capital markets cannot properly function, and business and trade cannot be reliably conducted,” said AmCham President Tara Joseph.
Mallet broke his silence Wednesday in a statement thanking the more than 15,000 people who have signed a petition in support of him, “particularly those from Hong Kong, which has been home to our family for a total of more than 7 years.”