With the policy speech dominating the headlines, government officials may think the Victor Mallet saga is out of the window. They can’t be more wrong.
The denial of working visa to the Financial Times journalist has done a devastating blow to Hong Kong’s international reputation as told by diplomats meeting in Geneva on human rights issue. The ripple is to go further from here.
The diplomats have been gathering this week to prepare for the United Nation Periodical Review (UPR), a five-year human rights review of all United Nation members. A representative from the Hong Kong Journalists Association is there lobbying for a recommendation on the city’s rights condition with the Hong Kong UPR Coalition.
In the coalition’s meeting with more than 20 states, press and speech freedom was the key topic raised by most diplomats.
Several states are considering the possibility of making recommendation on Hong Kong though there’s no confirmation on whether it would be on press and speech freedom. Any Hong Kong specific recommendation will be the first time in the UPR history.
The diplomats conceded that the Mallet incident has got them to zoom into the deterioration in the rights of expression in Hong Kong . “It’s hard to imagine them not knowing the damage to Hong Kong of denying visa to a Financial Times journalist. Now that they have done it, anything can happen,” said one of them.
This tells a fundamental change in their understanding of Hong Kong.
Over the years the Association has been meeting diplomats in Hong Kong to draw international attention on the deterioration, pointing to the loss of control in most media to mainland-linked companies; the kidnap of Causeway Bay book-sellers and the rampant self censorship in local media. Yet, many have queries.
“There are loads of criticism against the government in the newspapers. Those critics are kicking and alive. What do you mean by press freedom under siege?” “How much are these a result of commercial decision? How much are them self censorship?” “Is there any evidence that the change in editorial policy is due to pressure from Beijing and Hong Kong government?”
Mallet’s loss of visa is a loud and clear answer to all these questions. To the international community, there is no longer doubt that Hong Kong is losing its speech and press freedom. The change in their Hong Kong policy will be fundamental.
It won’t take long for the change to materialize. The UPR hearing on China is scheduled on 6 November. If there is any recommendation on Hong Kong, it would be heard by then.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
12 October 2018