by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: WikiCommons/CC
FREEDOM OF expression continues to deteriorate in Hong Kong, as observed in two recent incidents. The first involves Financial Times senior editor Victor Mallet being refused entry to Hong Kong as a visitor, this occurring after the Hong Kong government previously refused to allow Mallet to renew his visa. The second involves exiled Chinese dissident fiction writer Ma Jian, who was scheduled to appear at the Hong Kong Literary Festival, Ma having the scheduled venues for his appearances pull out at the last minute.
Mallet was forced to leave Hong Kong in October, with the Hong Kong government refusing to renew his work visa in spite of that he had worked in Hong Kong for over seven years from a period from 2003 to 2016. Likewise, the Hong Kong government took the extra measure of forcing Mallet to leave within seven days, despite that British nationals are normally allowed to stay in Hong Kong for six months on a tourist visa.
It is thought that Mallet’s work visa was not renewed in retribution for an event that he organized as the acting chair of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong (FCC) in which Andy Chan, the convenor of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), was invited to speak. The HKNP was facing a ban imposed by the Hong Kong government, which it is currently in the process of appealing, with the Hong Kong government accusing the HKNP of being a dangerous, separatist group. The FCC was warned from holding the event by the Hong Kong government but went ahead with it anyway, hence retribution against Mallet from the government, which otherwise refused to explain its actions.
Mallet would seek to re-enter Hong Kong as a visitor in mid-November but was refused entry. Evidently, Mallet is now banned from Hong Kong entirely. This would not be the first time that critics of China or the Hong Kong government have been banned from Hong Kong, as occurred previously in the cases of Taiwanese academics who went to Hong Kong to participate in conferences related to Hong Kong and Taiwanese identity.
On the other hand, Ma Jian, a Chinese writer in exile who is a British citizen, was originally scheduled to make appearances at the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts on November 10, before the center unexpectedly canceled. The Tai Kwun Center claimed that it was hoping to avoid becoming a platform for any specific view, but this led to criticisms that the Tai Kwun Center had compromised its professed values and any commitment to freedom of speech.
A second venue, The Annex, was arranged, but it, too, canceled at the last minute. But it seems that public pressure may have led the Tai Kwun Center to eventually change course, with the event eventually being held as scheduled. Although concerns were that Ma Jian would not be allowed into Hong Kong, as with Mallet, he was eventually allowed in and the talk went on as scheduled.
The cancelation of Ma Jian’s talks came on the heels of Chinese dissident artist Badiucao being forced to cancel a solo exhibition that was scheduled to be held in Hong Kong, the cancellation likely taking place because of political pressure. But, in general, there have been many incidents pointing to the deterioration of freedoms of expression in Hong Kong in recent years, including the kidnapping of five men who operated a bookstore and publisher in Causeway Bay. These men later reappeared in China and made televised confessions of lurid crimes, also claiming that they had gone to China of their own free will.
Political freedoms in Hong Kong also continue to be at a low point, with the banning of political parties, disqualification or even jailing of victorious electoral candidates, and candidates being prevented from running. While public pressure may allow for temporary reversals, such as took place with Ma Jian, these are momentary victories at best. There remain few signs that the deterioration of political freedoms in Hong Kong will reverse course anytime soon. Under the present administration of Hong Kong, certainly, this looks to be unthinkable.