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Hong Kong book fair bars ‘pro-democracy’ publishers

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Three independent publishers were allegedly rejected for books on 2019 protests

Three independent publishers were allegedly barred from the Hong Kong book fair for printing pro-democracy books on the 2019 protests. (Photo: Unsplash)
Published: July 25, 2022 06:30 AM GMT
Updated: July 25, 2022 07:25 AM GMT

The organizers of Hong Kong’s annual book fair, dubbed one of Asia’s largest literary events, has barred three independent publishers allegedly for their pro-democracy stance, media reports say.

Organized by Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the 32nd edition of the book fair runs from July 20-26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, reported Portuguese-language newspaper, Hoje Macau.

The theme of this year’s festival is “History and City Literature” with the tagline “Reading the World: Stories of Hong Kong.”

The previous fair was held in 2019 as it was suspended for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The event usually attracts about one million visitors.

This year, the organizer has faced criticism for rejecting attendance applications of three independent publishers — Hillway Culture, Humming Publishing, and One of a Kind — without citing any specific reason.

Raymond Yeung Tsz-Chun founder of Hillway Culture alleged that they have been banned for their “political” and “sensitive books.”

“As far as the book fair is concerned, we do not censor books in advance”

“Publishers like us, who put out political and so-called ‘sensitive’ books, are starting to be censored,”  the UK’s  Guardian newspaper quoted Yeung as saying.

Writers and publishers also alleged that independent publishing houses that show the political realities in Hong Kong are being censored and their voices muzzled.

Novelist Gabriel Tsang, who works with publisher Spicy Fish Cultural Production Limited said that writers and publishers might have to think about different approaches to expressing opinions under current circumstances.

“Many writers have their own intentions, and they must think a lot about whether they can have work published. They may use some allegory or use many rhetoric skills, rather than directly expressing what they wanted to express originally,” Tsang said

The council, however, dismissed allegations of censure and rejection of publishers for political reasons.

“As far as the book fair is concerned, we do not censor books in advance,” said the council’s deputy executive director, Sophia Chong.

“Media reports say writers and publishers have come under higher levels of scrutiny”

She noted that the authorities can decide on whether to allow or not

“Publications can be displayed at the book fair as long as they are lawful and classified as Class I articles,” said Chong.

Hoje Macau reported that during the last book fair the publishers exhibited books related to the pro-democracy protests that have swept the city since 2019.

Following the protests that crippled the former British colony, China’s communist regime has imposed draconian national security law in June 2020 to crush all forms of dissent in the semi-autonomous city once dubbed one of the world’s freest cities.

Dozens of pro-democracy politicians, activists and supporters have been arrested and jailed under the law, while pro-democracy and independent media outlets have been shuttered. Media reports say writers and publishers have come under higher levels of scrutiny and censorship.

Hillway Culture’s Raymond Yeung, was arrested in April and charged for allegedly taking part in illegal assemblies during the 2019 unrest. One of a Kind has published books about the city’s 2019 protests and Occupy Central, a large-scale civil disobedience movement in 2014.

“Government uses a series of laws against journalists including the national security law”

The crackdown on free speech has been extended to restrict the freedom of journalists and authors across Hong Kong.

In a report — In the Firing Line: The Crackdown on Media Freedom in Hong Kong — released by Hong Kong Watch, the perilous situation of the free press was highlighted.

The working environment for local and foreign journalists in Hong Kong has become increasingly difficult as the government uses a series of laws against journalists including the national security law, intimidation and police violence, mass sackings, intervention, and censorship of media outlets, it reported.

This led to the closure of Apple Daily, Stand News, and other media outlets.

RTHK, the local public broadcaster, lost its former editorial independence, resorting to spreading fear and alarming self-censorship across media outlets in the city.

Observers lamented that the barring of independent publishers has effectively damaged the spirit of inclusivity at Hong Kong’s book fair that it has long upheld and was lauded for.

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