Hong Kong Plans to Expel a Financial Times Editor

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong government has declined to renew the visa of a journalist for The Financial Times, a move that would result in his de facto expulsion and deepen concerns about the deterioration of media freedom in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

The Financial Times said on Friday that the Hong Kong government gave no reason for the decision not to renew a work visa for Victor Mallet, the newspaper’s Asia news editor.

“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 newspaper said in a statement.

The Hong Kong government said it would not comment on an individual case. “In handling each application, the Immigration Department acts in accordance with the laws and prevailing policies, and decides whether to approve or refuse the application after careful consideration of individual circumstances of each case,” the Immigration Department said in a statement.

Mr. Mallet, a British national, is first vice president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, and was the organization’s main spokesman in August, when it hosted a talk by a Hong Kong independence advocate that was harshly criticized by the local government and mainland Chinese officials.

Mainland China regularly punishes foreign journalists and media organizations by denying resident work visas to reporters and editors. But Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese control in 1997, has far greater protections for civil liberties. The plans to eject Mr. Mallet have further blurred the line between Hong Kong and mainland China, human rights advocates said.

“This is unprecedented,” said Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We expect foreign journalists to have this kind of visa rejection happen in China, but it has never happened in Hong Kong because Hong Kong has a tradition until recent years of respect for free speech.”

The move “will have an immediate chilling effect on freedom of expression in the city,” Jason Y. Ng, the president of PEN Hong Kong, a literature and free speech organization, said in a statement.

“As Beijing constantly moves the redlines on what topics are ‘sensitive’ and out of bounds, the pressure for institutions and individuals to engage in self-censorship increases significantly,” Mr. Ng said. “The threats to free expression and a free flow of ideas directly harm Hong Kong’s image as an open, ‘world’ city that abides by the rule of law.”

The expulsion “appears to be naked retaliation by the authorities to punish” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, he added.

Victor Mallet, the Asia news editor of The Financial Times.CreditThe Financial Times

In August, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club hosted a talk by Andy Chan, the head of a political party that called for Hong Kong’s independence from China. The Hong Kong government had said beforehand that it planned to ban Mr. Chan’s tiny political party, the Hong Kong National Party, under a colonial-era law that allows the prohibition of groups for reasons of national security, public safety or public order.

Officials from Hong Kong and the Chinese central government criticized the event. Leung Chun-ying, who was the city’s top official from 2012 to 2017, went further. He likened the talk to hosting supporters of “racism, anti-Semitism or Nazism” and said the Hong Kong government should review the lease of the F.C.C.’s clubhouse in a historic, publicly owned building in central Hong Kong.

Mr. Mallet, a veteran Financial Times editor who was previously the newspaper’s bureau chief in New Delhi, said during Mr. Chan’s talk that the club considered it a “normal event” involving an important news story in Hong Kong.

“The fact that this lunch seems to have become far from normal and has generated such exceptional interest in Hong Kong and around the world I think tells us more about the political climate in Hong Kong and in Beijing than it does about the F.C.C.,” he said.

Last month Hong Kong banned Mr. Chan’s party. Under the law a person who claims to be an officeholder of the party could be imprisoned for up to three years, and anyone who provides a place for the group to meet could be imprisoned for up to a year for a first offense.

Hong Kong, which maintains its own immigration policy and an internal border with the rest of China, has previously denied visas to academics and political activists. Last year two scholars from Taiwan were barred entry, and in 2014 several leaders of Taiwan’s 2014 protests against a trade bill with China were also not allowed to enter Hong Kong.

The move against a foreign journalist signals an expansion of such restrictions. A journalist working for The Financial Times has never before had a visa renewal denied in Hong Kong, and human rights and free speech groups could not immediately recall any other foreign journalist being expelled.

In 2011, the Hong Kong authorities did not approve a work visa for Chang Ping, a prominent journalist from mainland China who had been given a job at a Hong Kong newspaper.

Such treatment of foreign journalists is far more common in mainland China. Megha Rajagopalan, who was BuzzFeed News’s China bureau chief and had written stories about the widespread detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in western China, was not issued a new journalist visa this year.

A visa renewal was denied in 2015 for Ursula Gauthier, a reporter in Beijing for the French newsweekly L’Obs and who questioned China’s treatment of Uighurs. The New York Times and Bloomberg have also had applications for new journalist visas blocked in China after reports in 2012 on the wealth accumulated by Chinese leaders’ families.

In a confrontational speech about China on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence described the country’s restrictions on foreign journalists as part of Communist Party efforts to spread censorship.

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