Bans give critics free rein

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Nov 2018

The incidents involving the "Mas" -- Victor Mallet and Ma Jian -- have rocked Hong Kong. Both could have been avoided.

Mallet is a Financial Times editor who lost his work visa in October and had to leave the city, then refused entry as a British tourist after several hours of questioning by SAR immigration last week.

Ma is a mainland dissident author living in London who, being a permanent Hong Kong resident, was able to enter the city free of the harassment faced by Mallet. But his plan to give a literary talk in the SAR suffered after the multi-billion-dollar arts center known as Tai Kwun unexpectedly barred him from making the talk.

Mallet was turned back at the airport, while Ma was finally able to give the talk after Tai Kwun made a U-turn on its controversial decision. The incidents were indeed troubling.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu's comment on Mallet's second denial was basically a "no comment," although he assured the decision to refuse him entry even as a tourist had nothing to do with freedoms of expression and the press.

Lee's account might be true, as it would be extremely difficult for critics to find hard evidence to link it directly to any clampdown on the freedoms. The issue is that in addition to practice, freedom is also a matter of perception. Obviously, the situation is being perceived by many as being otherwise.

Patriots are free to criticize British official Mark Field for bad-mouthing Hong Kong over his warning that business confidence has been eroded. But their criticisms couldn't change the perception.

Unfortunately, Lee has not been forthcoming on Mallet's case. By blocking him from Hong Kong even as a tourist, the government effectively admitted it has blacklisted the veteran journalist -- over an "unforgivable sin" that's no more than moderating an August luncheon speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club by a Hong Kong independence advocate, whose tiny insignificant party has now been rendered unlawful by police.

Perhaps Lee should have been more open, just stating so since there was nothing sinister about it. Making public the authorities' considerations won't improve their image, but it would at least show the government wasn't doing anything secretly.

Then, the earlier ban of Chinese dissident writer Ma by Tai Kwun was pathetic. The statement by the center's director Timothy Calnin that they did not want the venue to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual was ludicrous.

It's even more laughable when the center backtracked on the ban, on the grounds it was satisfied with Ma's clarification that he wouldn't use the place for political purposes. Every bit of the incident was so arbitrary. It was certainly a pity.

Earlier this month, an exhibition by Chinese political cartoonist Badiucao was cancelled. Badiucao's drawings are known for their satirical criticisms of the mainland and Hong Kong governments. Drop by drop, would it become a wave? That's the fear.

Hong Kong made history recently with the United Nations Human Rights Council, when the SAR's freedoms were subject to critical scrutiny for the first time.

Sadly, all these incidents were avoidable.

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