Friday, 18 Jan 2019

Literary event in Hong Kong puts Beijing critic in doubt as concern for political freedom grows

A prominent arts and cultural institution in Hong Kong canceled this week the appearance of a writer critical of the Beijing government, reinforcing the feeling in this semi-autonomous city that the political freedoms it enjoyed were giving way to a faster and faster speed.A flawless stay

The French-Chinese writer Ma Jian, who lives in exile in London, was to lead a debate Saturday afternoon and discuss separately the Chinese dream "China Dream", a new critical novel of Chinese totalitarianism and the vision of the president. Xi Jinping regarding national greatness. The events were moved from the Tai Kwun Arts and Heritage Center for political reasons, the center announced sharply this week.

Tai Kwun's decision came a week after a dissident cartoonist canceled a personal exhibition in Hong Kong following threats, he said, from the continent's authorities. And the same day, Hong Kong immigration officials refused entry to the Financial Times reporter Victor Mallet, whom he had expelled by an unprecedented move a month ago.

Late Friday, a backup place set up for Ma's events announced at the Washington Post that he would also refuse to greet the writer, jeopardizing his appearances in Hong Kong.

Taken as a whole, the incidents have heightened the fears of Democratic activists, human rights observers and Western diplomats that Hong Kong's status as a safe haven for freedom of speech would erode rapidly, the direct pressure of Beijing, under the more subtle effects of self-censorship.

In a statement that does not mention Ma by name, Tai Kwun's director, Timothy Calnin, said the center wanted to move the literary event because "we do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the interests anyone's policies ".

The annex, a backup site that organizers planned to use to host Ma, was also canceled. Management said in an email Friday that she had "no affiliation with the event or with the author".

Speaking on the phone before leaving London, Ma, 65, said he was baffled by the last-minute turnaround, as the festival program – and the rooms in which he had to talk – was long overdue.

Ma said that he was determined to fly to Hong Kong to find out if he could enter the territory and, if so, ask for an explanation.

"I want to know if it was an example of self-censorship or where there were bigger political forces involved," he said. "I need to know the truth."

Hong Kong is guaranteed a degree of political autonomy and freedom as part of a 1997 power-of-hand agreement between China and Britain, which put an end to British colonial rule over the territory. But the Chinese authorities, deeply alarmed by the eruption of the tempting protests for democracy in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement, have tried to instill a sense of patriotism and tighten political controls, in every way.

The Hong Kong leaders, who are ultimately in Beijing, have taken steps to prevent opposition candidates from taking office in recent years, banned a pro-independence political party this summer and adopted a much harsher line. with regard to separatist advocacy. This month, prosecutors must try nine officials of the 2014 protests under the charge of "public nuisance".

Media organizations, business groups, and Western governments were taken aback in October when Hong Kong expelled Mallet from the Financial Times, who had hosted a Foreign Correspondents Club talk with pro-independence activist Andy Chan. despite requests from the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to call out of the event.

Mallet left Hong Kong last month but immigration agents interrogated him for hours on Thursday while he was trying to return to the area as a tourist. He eventually was denied entry, the FT reported.

In a statement by e-mail, a spokesman for the British Consulate General said the Foreign Ministry was "very concerned about the authorities' unprecedented refusal to issue a visa for a high-profile British journalist, which compromises the freedom of expression and freedom of the press of Hong Kong ".

Mark Field, British Foreign Minister for Asia, was in Hong Kong this week and will raise Mallet's case with local authorities "urgently," the statement added.

Political observers in Hong Kong have stated that although the government has never acknowledged that the expulsion of Mallet was a reward for holding the discussion with Chan, that a former Hong Kong leader he was a criminal, he clearly told all companies and institutions to withdraw from the controversy. Activities.

"This is exactly how censorship and self-censorship mutually reinforce each other," said Maya Wong, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Everyone collapses collectively, far behind the red line, for the sake of self-preservation."

After several Chinese security agents reportedly kidnapped several booksellers in Hong Kong in 2016, the city 's political publishing sector in political freedom was out of breath in the same way, while the stores were not able to sell their books. and they collapsed and the writers avoided being interested in Chinese politics.

Ma, the British novelist, said on Twitter last week that he had not been able to find a Hong Kong publisher for "China Dream" because they were "too scared". Several publishers, he told the Hong Kong press, insisted that he rename a character he had called "Xi Jinping."

Penguin, his British publisher, has shown himself more daring, describing Ma's new novel on his website as "an arrow of propaganda" President Xi Jinping's "China's Dream" and a "bitter satire of totalitarianism".

Ma, who published a book early in her career on Tibet – another third pillar of Chinese politics – remains persona non grata in her home country and has not returned for decades. He was refused entry on his last attempt to cross the southern border from Hong Kong in 2011.

He lived for years in Hong Kong, where he holds permanent residence. He moved to Britain in 1997 when the territory was returned to China.

"After 1997, I thought Hong Kong would still have at least 50 years of freedom," he said. "I did not expect intellectual censorship to develop little by little so quickly and so badly."


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