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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 offer a narrow selection of books deemed politically sensitive, as they try to avoid violating a sweeping national security law imposed on the city year-round last.

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

This year, far fewer politically sensitive books are on display. Vendors carefully organize their books to avoid violating national security law.

Beijing imposed the law on Hong Kong in June 2020. Authorities used it to quell dissent, arresting more than 100 pro-democracy supporters in the city.

The law has drawn criticism from governments and other critics who say it restricts freedoms untraceable on the continent under communist rule that were promised to the former British colony for 50 years after it was handed over to Beijing in 1997.

Jimmy Pang, a local publisher who sold books on the 2014 pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella Movement, said many books critical of the government were missing.

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

“We don’t want to have any issues that will affect how the book fair works, so we’re censoring ourselves a lot this time around. We read every book and every word before we bring it here, ”he said.

Some 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 authorities have used the National Security Law to quell dissent, publishers, distributors and even importers and exporters are wary of the risks of publishing or processing potentially sensitive books, said Hui Ching, research director. from the Zhi Ming Institute of Hong Kong, a private and 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 the political pressure exerted by the government.

“This is why we can only see publications which are (in) favor of the government in the book fair,” he said.

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

Some visitors, like Alex Chan, lamented the lack of such books at the fair this year.

“Is the book fair still a place where we can buy all kinds of books? Is Hong Kong still a place with free speech or the freedom to publish? he said.

Some publishers have gone ahead and put books on the 2014 protests and other politically sensitive topics for sale.

“When we publish a book, we put a lot of effort into making sure the content is legal, which is why we don’t think there is a big deal and we would bring them to the book fair anyway,” said Raymond Yeung, spokesperson for the publisher. Hillway Culture Co.

“We hope this will be an encouragement for our fellow publishers, to show that there are still people publishing books like this,” he said.

AP Business Writer Zen Soo contributed to this report.