Hong Kong Book Fair sees self-censorship and fewer books

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HONG KONG (AP) – Booksellers at the annual Hong Kong Book Fair are offering a reduced selection of books that are considered politically sensitive as they try not to violate a comprehensive national security law imposed on the city last year.

The book fair was postponed twice last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It usually attracts hundreds of thousands of people looking for everything from the latest bestsellers to the works of political figures.

This year, significantly less politically sensitive books will be exhibited. Sellers carefully curate their books to avoid violating national safety law.

Beijing imposed the law on Hong Kong in June 2020. The authorities used it to crack down on dissenting and arrested more than 100 democracy supporters in the city.

The law has drawn criticism from governments and other critics who say it restricts freedoms not found on the communist-ruled mainland, promised to the former British colony for 50 years after it was surrendered to Beijing in 1997.

Jimmy Pang, a local publisher who used to sell books about the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations known as the umbrella movement, said many books critical of the government have disappeared.

“Each seller will read through the books they bring to the book fair to see if there is any content that could cause problems,” said Pang, who is the president of Subculture.

“We don’t want to get in trouble that interferes with the book fair, so this time we’re censoring a lot ourselves. We read every single book and word before we bring it here,” he said.

Several books published by Subculture were pulled from the shelves of Hong Kong public libraries earlier this year. These books are not available at the fair.

Now that the authorities have used the national security law to suppress dissenting opinions, publishers, dealers, and even importers and exporters have become cautious about publishing or handling potentially sensitive books, said Hui Ching, research director of Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute, a private, independent think tank.

Political author Johnny Lau, author of a book on the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong in the last century, said his book was not allowed at the fair this year – not because of government interference but because of political pressure from government policy.

“That’s why we can only see government-friendly publications at the book fair,” he said.

Benjamin Chau, Deputy General Manager of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which organizes the book fair. told reporters earlier this week that books by pro-democracy authors can still be sold as long as they don’t break the law.

Some visitors, like Alex Chan, complained about the lack of such books at this year’s fair.

“Is the book fair still a place where we can buy all kinds of books? Is Hong Kong still a place with freedom of expression or publication? ”He said.

Some publishers have already put books on sale about the 2014 protests and other politically sensitive topics.

“When we publish a book, we make sure that the content is legal, so we think there is no big problem and we would still bring it to the book fair,” said Raymond Yeung, spokesman for Hillway Culture Co.

“We hope this is an encouragement to our fellow publishers to show that there are still some people who publish such books,” he said.

AP Business Writer Zen Soo contributed to this report.



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