Hong Kong publishers barred from book fair over politically sensitive material | hong kong

Hong Kong publishers have denounced a “new form of censorship” after vendors selling books deemed politically sensitive were allegedly barred from the industry’s traditional annual trade fair.

With hundreds of exhibitors spread across the city’s main exhibition centre, the seven-day event which kicked off this week attracted over a million visitors and provided a key business opportunity for the sector.

But this year publishers who featured books last year about the protests that swept the city in 2019 have been banned from the book fair, without explanation.

One was Hillway Culture, while at least two other publishers, Humming Publishing and Kind Of Culture, also had their applications turned down.

The city’s Business Development Council, which organizes the fair, declined to comment on the rejections, saying only that not all applications would be accepted.

He also said that the books on display had not been checked in advance, but that the sellers were legally responsible for what they sold.

Raymond Yeung of Hillway Culture said opinions and books that were not favored by the government were kept away from official platforms such as the book fair.

Yeung, who is also a writer, became a public figure after being injured during a protest in 2019 and suffering partial sight loss in his right eye.

“Publishers like us, who publish political and so-called ‘sensitive’ books, are starting to be censored,” Yeung said, adding that some local printers also refused to print their publications after the law was introduced. national security in June. 2020.

In the halls of the Hong Kong exhibition center on Thursday, avid readers were seen dragging suitcases and trolleys behind them, looking for bargains at the fair.

Few of the books on offer were about the huge protests that erupted in the city in 2019 in response to a controversial extradition bill, and which became the biggest unrest the city has seen since its return to Chinese rule in 1997. Of those available, booksellers declined to be interviewed.

One could still find volumes on China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and others on the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, as well as publications on Hong Kong’s colonial past.

In 2021, members of a pro-Beijing group had filed police reports against publishers selling books about the protests, alleging they had violated new security laws.

With the path to the official book fair blocked, Hillway Culture attempted to hold its own “Hong Kong People’s Book Fair” with more than a dozen other independent publishers and bookstores.

A few days before the event, however, the venue’s owner terminated the lease with Hillway Culture, claiming the organizer had violated venue rules by sharing the space with other vendors.

Yeung said similar events had taken place at the site in the past, suggesting it was political pressure that changed the owner’s mind.

“It’s not a matter of law…there are hidden forces that prevent these events and these books from coming to light,” he said.

“This form of censorship is scarier, because there are no rules we can follow.”

Professor Fu King-wah of the Center for Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Hong Kong, said it would be difficult to judge whether publishers and their books were censored by the official organizer of the fair. book, because such a process would take place behind closed doors.

But he warned that the introduction of the national security law could have led to self-censorship among writers and publishers, adding that it does not always come in the form of outright bans.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen some news outlets not being able to continue operating, and technically the government hasn’t banned them,” Fu said, referring to news outlets being shut down. such as Apple Daily and Stand News.

Both companies went out of business after leaders were arrested under national security laws and their funds frozen, but the display and circulation of relevant archival materials had not been banned.

With the government’s plan to enact more laws targeting speech, such as the False News Bill, Fu said the space for free speech in Hong Kong “will only shrink” in the near future. coming.

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