Hong Kong (CNN)The unprecedented denial of a visa to a Financial Times journalist "sends a chilling message to everyone in Hong Kong," the paper said Sunday, as press groups and politicians in the city continued to denounce the move.
'Chilling message': Hong Kong refuses to explain FT journalist visa denial
Asia news editor Victor Mallet was informed Friday that his visa renewal -- usually a procedural matter -- had been refused, weeks after he hosted a controversial pro-independence activist in his role as vice president of the city's Foreign Correspondent's Club (FCC).
"No criticism has been offered of his work as a journalist," the FT editorial board said. "In the absence of any proper explanation for the decision, it is therefore hard to resist the conclusion that it amounts to retribution for his role as (FCC vice president)."
A huge amount of pressure was applied to the FCC by both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments to cancel the talk by Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National Party in August.
The Hong Kong National Party has since been banned -- itself an unprecedented move -- though it was completely legal at the time of his speech.
"By virtue of its historical, geographical and cultural difference, Hong Kong is a truly separate entity from the so-called Chinese nation," Chan said during the talk. "We were once colonized by the Brits, and now we are colonized by the Chinese, where is our right to determine our own future?"
Ahead of the speech, former Hong Kong leader CY Leung urged the government to investigate the FCC's lease of its central Hong Kong headquarters, while China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called it an "abuse of freedoms of press and speech," and accused the FCC of endorsing Chan's views.
The Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese state-run tabloid, said Sunday it was "clear that hosting Chan demonstrates a sense of political provocation that goes far beyond the scope of freedom of speech."
"Without Mallet, Hong Kong won't have any less freedom of speech. By contrast, Mallet's action damaged China's national security and undermined freedom of expression," the paper said.
It also linked the issue to ongoing US pressure on Chinese state media.
The UK's Foreign Office said Friday it was "concerned" by the refusal of Mallet's visa and had asked the Hong Kong government "for an urgent explanation."
"Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and its press freedoms are central to its way of life, and must be fully respected," it added.
Immigration authorities in the city have so refused to comment on the matter, while the Hong Kong office of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a statement that visa matters "fall within a country's sovereignty," adding that "no foreign country has any right to interfere."
Press freedom groups will deliver a pair of petitions demanding an explanation to the Hong Kong government on Monday. Around 15,000 people had signed the two petitions as of Monday morning.