HONG KONG (AP) — Concerns have been raised about freedom of expression in Hong Kong following the cancellation of literary and artistic events and the refusal to allow an editor from the Financial Times to enter the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
A look at three recent incidents and the effect they’re having on freedom of speech and civil rights:
AUTHOR MA JIAN’S EVENT CANCELED
A Hong Kong arts venue has canceled the appearance at a literary festival of exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian, known for his novels criticizing China’s ruling Communist Party.
Ma tweeted that the Tai Kwun venue, which is hosting the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, said his two scheduled events had been scratched. He said no explanation was given.
Ma told reporters on his arrival in Hong Kong on Friday that he experienced nothing unusual while entering the territory and that organizers were still lining up a place for him to speak.
“The lecture will definitely happen. If there is a single Hong Kong person who is willing to listen, or a single reader who contacts me, I will be there,” Ma said.
He speculated there was a “black hand” behind the authorities controlling the conditions under which he could appear, but vowed to “communicate with readers over these days in Hong Kong however possible.”
Ma, 65, is a dissident writer whose six published novels are banned in mainland China. He has said he’s been unable to find a Chinese-language publisher in Hong Kong for his most recent work, “China Dream,” which has been compared to the works of George Orwell in its scathing description of authoritarian rule.
The book has already been published in English with a cover designed by famed dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who also lives outside China.
The Financial Times quoted the original venue’s director Timothy Calnin as saying, “We do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual.”
In a tweet, Ma said he “wouldn’t use Tai Kwun as a platform to promote my ‘political interests.’”
“I’m a novelist, not an activist ... My ‘politics’ are simple: I believe in free thought and free speech. Without them, life has no meaning.”
Hong Kong was promised semi-autonomy for 50 years as part of its 1997 handover from British rule, allowing it to retain its limited democracy and rights to assembly and free speech that are denied on the Chinese mainland.
Yet concerns are growing about the protection of civil rights, sparked by the suspected kidnapping by Chinese security forces of publishers of sometimes salacious works on the country’s leaders and the prosecution of organizers of anti-Beijing protests.
FINANCIAL TIMES EDITOR REFUSED ENTRY
The Financial Times says its Asia news editor Victor Mallet was turned away at the border on Thursday when he attempted to re-enter Hong Kong as a visitor.
That came after Mallet was forced to leave Hong Kong after the government refused to renew his work visa in apparent retaliation for his hosting a speaker at the Foreign Correspondents Club who led a now-banned political party advocating the territory’s independence from China.
Victor Mallet, right, shakes hands with Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National Party, at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, Aug. 14, 2018. Vallet was denied entry to Hong Kong on Thursday, Nov. 8. (Associated Press image)
Hong Kong’s immigration authority gave no explanation for his expulsion and on Friday responded with a statement saying it would “act in accordance with the laws and policies, and decide whether the entry will be allowed or refused after careful consideration of circumstances of each case.”
Hong Kong journalist groups have submitted a letter of protest to Hong Kong’s government over the expulsion, saying it boded ill for the territory’s reputation as a place ruled by law where freedom of speech is protected.
Rights groups have called the visa rejection the latest sign of Beijing’s expanding restrictions on the territory, including legal cases brought against pro-democracy legislators and organizers of large-scale anti-government protests in 2014.
ARTIST’S SHOW CALLED OFF AFTER ALLEGED THREATS
An exhibition by the Chinese-Australian artist known as Badiucao was canceled after organizers said in a statement that threats had been “made by the Chinese authorities relating to the artist.”
Hong Kong Free Press, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders — all groups frequently critical of China’s ruling Communist Party — were joint organizers of the event, titled “Gongle.”
They said in a joint statement that the exhibition had been cancelled over “safety concerns”
Two members of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot was also due to appear, along with Joshua Wong, secretary-general of the opposition political party Demosisto and local political artist Sampson Wong.
Badiucao’s cartoons lampoon China’s leaders and the surveillance society they are establishing, and his website says he “uses his art to challenge the censorship and dictatorship in China.”
“He believes art and internet has the power to deconstruct the arrogance and authority of dictatorship as building block of individual awakening and free independence,” his site says.
Speaking earlier to Hong Kong Free Press, Badiucao said he wouldn’t be appearing at the exhibition for fear or being kidnapped or having his true identity revealed.
“I really admire artists and dissidents who are brave enough to do it openly. I see myself as a coward,” the website quoted him as saying. “But I try to explain to myself that I’m just an ordinary guy, I’m not as brave as a hero. And an ordinary guy also deserves a voice.”
In this Nov. 4, 2018, file photo, a staff member of the pro-China bookstore "The Commercial Press" tears down the copies of the Badiucao's political artworks which are displayed at the front of the bookstore after the cancellation of Badiucao's exhibition in Hong Kong. (Associated Press Image)