Freedom to publish shrinks under national security law Hong Kong booksellers lament serious self-censorship in publishing industry

The annual book fair held in Hong Kong is one of the largest in Asia, but after the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Book Fair has also been overshadowed. On the eve of the opening, the organizers threatened to hand over the books to the National Security Office if they received complaints or reports that they violated the National Security Law; some pro-Beijing groups also foretold that they would tour the venue and report books that were “illegal”. In the face of pressure from many parties, many publishers confessed that they would censor themselves.

Before the official opening of this year’s book fair, many pro-Beijing groups have threatened to tour the venue and report books that “violate” the National Security Law, plus HKTDC Vice President Chow Kai Leung said earlier that if complaints or reports of illegal books are received, they will be referred to the Hong Kong police. The public is concerned about whether the book fair will be affected by the national security law, including whether there will be law enforcement agencies to enter the venue to review the books.

Even though the TDC stressed that it had not heard of law enforcement departments entering the venue for inspection, but in the face of the risk of being “reported”, many exhibitors could only choose to self-censor in order to avoid getting into trouble. Subculture Hall President Peng Zhiming criticized that TDC’s move is tantamount to encouraging whistle-blowing. He told the station that before the implementation of the National Security Law, there was no book inspection system in Hong Kong, but there are specific restrictions, such as pornographic or violent books need to be wrapped in plastic bags, if the violation of the most serious, but only a fine. After the implementation of the National Security Law, the LCSD shelved more than 70 books on current affairs, saying that the content may violate the National Security Law, said Peng Zhiming, although the authorities have not exactly implemented what policy, but the publishing industry gradually have the concept of “banned books”.

Although the authorities often stress that the National Security Law does not infringe on the freedom of speech and publication, and repeatedly ensure that the law does not have a retroactive period, but Peng Zhiming said, in recent months saw the Apple Daily was seized, commentators were prosecuted and closed pen, coupled with the law does not set up a judicial review, “when she says you are (illegal) is (illegal) when”, frankly on the publishing industry The pressure is great, “even an organization as big as Apple can’t top it,” and independent booksellers can’t afford to take the risk of this being reported.

The company’s main business is to promote the development of the company’s products and services. People don’t want to get into trouble. In fact, it is not good, self-censorship is very serious, we are all very cautious, to see whether their books will be sensitive, sensitive is not necessarily political, critical of the government, not to support the government, are more trouble, so simply do not bring this batch of books to go.”

Political books imported from Taiwan also dare not sell

A small independent publisher, who wishes to remain anonymous, agrees that self-censorship is serious this year, and several books are afraid to sell at book fairs, including an oral history book about the Cultural Revolution, and a book that had been taken off the shelves by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, mocking current politics. He described to the station that the red line of national security is wide, and it is difficult to guess what content or will touch the nerve of the authorities, even if they all internally believe that the content of the book does not have sensitive words, in order to avoid complications, and finally decided not to sell such books.

Book fairs are an important way for publishers to make money, many booksellers will buy books from around the world and sell them at book fairs, where books published in Taiwan are popular among Hong Kong people. However, the bookseller mentioned that this year, in response to the National Security Law, to decide whether to sell such books at book fairs is also relatively difficult.

Independent small publishers in charge: “If some books are from Taiwan bookstores, but there is no national security law in Taiwan, after coming to Hong Kong, in the end to sell or not to sell it? Or have long been in stock, and then sell it or not? If I do not sell at this moment, stock, if not sold and shipped back, are very troublesome. Bookstores may have thousands of books, in fact, sometimes really can not finish reading, how would I know that there are (sensitive) words and phrases, really will not know.”

Estimated annual book fair set a red line where the future of the Hong Kong book industry?

The person in charge estimates that the “reporting” system or continue to the future of each book fair, but that “there is still room to do”, I believe that each year there will always be a certain type of book, to respond to the current social atmosphere, such as this year or popular immigration books, Hong Kong history books, and books about Hong Kong entertainment culture of the book.

However, for the future development of Hong Kong’s book industry, Subculture Hall President Peng Zhiming is not too optimistic. The LCSD has taken down many books published by the Subculture Hall, including Chen Yun’s book “The Sovereignty of the City State” and Lam Kuang Ching’s “History of the Civil Disobedience Movement in Hong Kong”, and the book written by President Pang Chi-ming, “The White Paper on Love for Hong Kong and Not for the Party”, has also been taken down. Pang Zhiming thinks, although not to lose the book fair or publishing industry, but worried about the market will lose certain types of books, that is, social science or commentary on current political books, readers’ reading options greatly reduced.

Pang: “We used to collect and publish some of the articles that authors usually write in their columns about social and current affairs, for example, if you go to criticize (the government) for using tens of millions of dollars to build a pond or hundreds of millions of dollars to build a flyover, these will definitely be there, or their governance mistakes, (the government) handed out money very poorly. These are not very politically sensitive books, but now it turns out that these authors have closed their pens, and even the authors do not want to write, do not want to put these columns in a collection. We have approached many (authors) and all have expressed reluctance.”

Peng Zhiming: under the national security law, now more dismal than no book fair

Peng Zhiming pointed out that the space for current affairs books in the Hong Kong market is shrinking day by day, on the other hand, the pro-Beijing background of the publishing house to print a large number of books about the state of China, so that the voice of the book industry has become a single, affecting the Hong Kong society and culture and freedom of speech.

Pang: “If it really goes to this point, it is worse than no book fair or no publication. Publishing must continue to be there, but it may be very biased and monolithic, and no one may even dare to speak the truth anymore, and not even just no publishers, but maybe even printers will not dare to print (certain books), or issue them and bookstores will not dare to sell them anymore, which is the real blow to the book industry.”

In the exhibition space of the Subculture Hall, the words “See the words, read the books, and be a good person” are posted, which Peng says is a message to readers to continue reading, develop their own thinking skills and knowledge, continue to do their own learning, maintain a good mental state, and then be a “good person with a backbone. “.