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(14 Jul 2021) LEAD IN:
Booksellers at Hong Kong’s annual book fair are offering a reduced selection of books deemed politically sensitive, as they look to avoid breaching a sweeping national security law imposed on the city last year.
The massive gathering is back after being postponed twice last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong’s book fair traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of people who seek everything from the latest bestsellers to books penned by political figures.
This year, however, there is a noticeable reduction in the number of politically sensitive books on display, as vendors curate their books carefully to avoid violating the national security law.
The legislation was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June last year and has been used as a tool to crack down on dissent and to arrest over a hundred pro-democracy supporters in the city.
Hong Kong’s national security law has drawn international criticism from governments globally, who say that it restricts freedoms promised to the former British colony for 50 years that are not found on the mainland.
Jimmy Pang, a local publisher who used to sell books about the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement in previous book fairs, says many books that are critical of the government have disappeared.
“Every vendor will read through the books that they are bringing to the book fair to see if there is any content that might cause trouble,” says Pang, who’s president of Subculture publishing house.
Some books published by Subculture were pulled off the shelves of Hong Kong’s public libraries earlier this year, these books are not available at the fair.
Political author Johnny Lau, who penned a book about the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong in the last century, says his book could not appear at the fair this year.
Lau says that while there is no interference from the government, there is political “pressure” that comes from the government’s policies.
“That’s why we can only see the publications which are favorite to the government in the book fair,” he says.
The national security law will likely affect the publishing industry in Hong Kong, as publishers, distributors and even importers and exporters become wary about legal risks that come with publishing or dealing with potentially sensitive books, says Hui Ching, research director of the Hong Kong Zhi Ming Institute.
“The importers or exporters from foreign countries or regions, they would also be concerned about their own political disputes or risks, or even legal disputes over these issues,” he says.
Benjamin Chau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council which organizes the book fair each year, said in a press briefing earlier this week that political books written by opposition figures can still be sold as long as the books do not violate the laws of Hong Kong.
Although some vendors have decided not to sell politically sensitive books at the fair this year, others such as Hillway Culture Company have pressed on, selling books written by authors involved in the Hong Kong 2014 protests that became known as the Umbrella Movement.
“When we publish the book, we have put a lot of effort to ensure the content is legal, that’s why we don’t think there’s a big problem and would still bring them to the book fair,” says Raymond Yeung, a spokesman for Hillway Culture Company.
“(We) hope this will be an encouragement to our fellow publishers, to show that there’s still some people publishing books like this.”
Some visitors, such as Alex Chan, lament the lack of such books at the fair this year.
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