Hong Kong denies Economist journalist visa, raising press freedom concerns

Pedestrians cross a street in Hong Kong on October 31, 2021. Hong Kong was once one of the freest societies in Asia and considered one of the best places to set up shop for journalists covering the region due to the ease of obtaining work visas for foreign journalists. .BERTHA WANG/AFP/Getty Images

Immigration authorities in Hong Kong have refused to renew the visa of a correspondent for the economist, forcing her out of the territory in a way Beijing has long used against critical journalists.

In a statement late Thursday, economist editor Zanny Minton Beddoes said the decision not to renew Sue-Lin Wong’s visa “was given without explanation.”

“We are proud of Sue-Lin’s journalism,” Ms. Beddoes wrote. “We urge the Hong Kong government to maintain access to the foreign press, which is vital to the territory’s status as an international city.”

On Twitter, Ms Wong said she was “very sad not to be able to continue reporting from Hong Kong”.

“I loved discovering the city and its inhabitants. I will miss you all,” she wrote. The Economist said she had already left town.

Australian Ms Wong was hired by The Economist of the Financial Times (FT) in June 2020, as a China correspondent “focusing on society and politics in mainland China and Hong Kong”, according to her biography on the site. Magazine website.

At the FT, she covered Hong Kong’s anti-government unrest in depth in 2019. She wrote a lengthy article about the clashes between student protesters and police called “Inside the battle for Hong Kong”. Since joining The Economist, she has written about how a national security law imposed on the city last year by Beijing has been used to suppress unions and universities.

Hong Kong was once one of the freest societies in Asia. It was considered one of the best places for journalists covering the region, because it offered constitutional protections that were lacking elsewhere and because of the ease of obtaining employment visas for foreign journalists. Unlike mainland China, foreign reporters in Hong Kong do not need to apply for a specialist journalist visa. They are treated like other workers.

Since the introduction of the national security law in 2020, there has been a major press crackdown, mainly targeting local Chinese-language media. The pro-democracy Apple Daily was forced to close after a number of its executives and editors were arrested and its assets frozen, while public broadcaster RTHK was placed under strict government control, with its limited editorial independence.

Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based human rights group, described Ms Wong’s deportation as “truly ridiculous” and “a sign of the speed of Hong Kong’s decline”.

In August last year, Aaron Mc Nicholas, a former Bloomberg Irish journalist who had worked in the city since 2015, was denied a visa to take up a post at the Hong Kong Free Press. Immigration authorities declined to comment on the case at the time and no official reason was given for Mr Mc Nicholas’ refusal.

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HKFP is a local English-language outlet with no long experience of employing foreign nationals, and some hoped Mr Mc Nicholas’ case would be isolated. The decision to ban Ms Wong suggests that immigration officials are taking a tougher line on foreign journalists and may adopt a mainland tactic of using visa renewals to bar journalists from entering. country reviews.

“Beijing’s welcome is going south,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter in reaction to Ms. Wong’s deportation. “So sorry to see this.”

Besides the large corps of journalists covering Hong Kong itself, the city currently hosts dozens of journalists who usually cover China but are awaiting visa renewals or issuance. While the city has long been a pit stop for those waiting for credentials to enter the mainland, the situation has become particularly dire during the pandemic, with authorities in Beijing largely halting visa approvals last year. last and continuing to drag its feet.

And Hong Kong is no longer the sanctuary it once was. A recent survey by the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) found that 84 percent of respondents felt the working environment for journalism had “worsened” since the national security law took effect.

Almost half of those surveyed, 46%, said they were considering or already planning to leave Hong Kong due to declining press freedom in the city.

“These results clearly show that assurances that Hong Kong still enjoys freedom of the press…are not enough,” FCC Chairman Keith Richburg said in a statement. “Further steps must be taken to restore trust among journalists and ensure that Hong Kong maintains its long-standing reputation as a home for international media.

In response, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson accused the FCC of “interfering in Hong Kong affairs” and said that “the right of media professionals in Hong Kong to report in accordance with the law has not been affected at all”.

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