Hong Kong authorities rejected a work visa application for an Irish journalist, fuelling concerns about press freedom after China imposed a sweeping national security law, news website Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) said on Thursday
Aaron McNicholas was denied a work visa after waiting for almost six months and wasn’t given a reason for the decision, the publication said in a statement.
McNicholas covered the city’s sometimes-violent anti-government protests last year while working for Bloomberg.
“It seems we have been targeted under the climate of the new security law and because of our impartial and fact-based coverage,” HKFP editor-in-chief Tom Grundy said in a statement.
The news website would press the government to offer reasons for the denial and would consider an appeal and legal challenge, he added.
The Hong Kong government and immigration department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Media groups said the move reflected an acceleration in the decline of press freedoms under the security law which punishes what Beijing defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
“Denial of a work visa to a thriving local news operation bashes the most basic promise of press freedom given repeatedly by the Hong Kong government,” said Steven Butler, Asia Programme Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“It also severely undermines Hong Kong’s status as an international city and financial centre, which cannot flourish unless journalists are free to do their work.”
Journalists in the former British colony have told Reuters they fear the legislation could be used to silence media and crack down on freedom of expression, concerns the Hong Kong government has rejected.
Hong Kong is guaranteed freedom of speech and the press under Article 27 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution agreed by China when it took back control of the global financial hub in 1997.
The news comes more than a month after The New York Times said it would shift part of its Hong Kong office to Seoul as it faced challenges securing work permits.
The Hong Kong government said at the time the city remained a regional media hub. (Source: CNA)