The Financial Times said Friday that Hong Kong's government has refused to renew the work visa of its Asia news editor, in what human rights activists say is the latest sign of a deteriorating human rights situation in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The London-based newspaper said in a statement Friday that it was given no reason why Victor Mallet's application was rejected.
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"This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong," the paper said in an emailed statement.
Mallet is vice president of Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club, an institution dating back more than 75 years ago to when the Asian financial hub was a British colony.
The club recently drew criticism from the authorities for hosting a talk by the leader of a now-banned pro-Hong Kong independence party. It was unclear whether there was a connection between that event and the denial of Mallet's visa.
However, Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch's senior China researcher based in Hong Kong, said in a statement that the rejection of Mallet's visa was "shocking and unprecedented" and showed growing intolerance for views unpopular with authorities.
The rejection "smacks of Beijing-style persecution of critics" and, together with the banning of the Hong Kong National Party, "indicates a quickening downward spiral for human rights in Hong Kong," she said.
Reached by telephone, a spokesman for Hong Kong's immigration department, speaking on routine condition of anonymity, said the department had no immediate comment on the reports.
Jason Y. Ng, president of the Hong Kong branch of the international writer's group PEN, said the visa rejection "appears to be naked retaliation by the authorities to punish the FCC.
"This will have an immediate chilling effect on freedom of expression in the city" that would "directly harm Hong Kong's image as an open, 'world' city that abides by the rule of law," Ng said.
The visa rejection is likely to raise further questions about Beijing's growing influence in the territory. It was promised semi-autonomy as part of its 1997 handover from British rule. Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials have warned separatist activity would not be tolerated, calling any challenge to Beijing's authority a "red line" not to be crossed.
The perception that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong's free elections and freedom of speech is inspiring young activists to calling for greater autonomy, if not outright independence.
Huge pro-democracy protests erupted in 2014 in response to the decision by China's ruling Communist Party to retain the right to effectively pre-screen candidates for Hong Kong's leadership.
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