De­fend free speech, urges au­thor

The Star Malaysia - - World -

HONG KONG: Dis­si­dent Chi­nese au­thor Ma Jian hit out at threats to free­dom of speech say­ing it was the “ba­sis of civil­i­sa­tion” af­ter a struggle to find a venue to host his talks at Hong Kong’s lit­er­ary fes­ti­val.

The venue bat­tle fu­elled grow­ing con­cerns that semi-au­ton­o­mous Hong Kong’s free­doms are fast van­ish­ing un­der an as­sertive Bei­jing.

Ma, whose books are banned in main­land China, was due to pro­mote his lat­est novel China Dream at two speak­ing events yes­ter­day.

The ti­tle plays on Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s rhetoric of na­tional re­ju­ve­na­tion and is de­scribed by pub­lisher Pen­guin as “a bit­ing satire of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism”.

“Self-cen­sor­ship is noth­ing won­der­ful and we have to have the courage to break that,” he told re­porters yes­ter­day at the new Tai Kwun arts cen­tre, which hosts the Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val and had orig­i­nally can­celled his talks.

The venue re­in­stated them at the eleventh hour on Fri­day af­ter a re­place­ment lo­ca­tion also dropped out.

Ma, 65, said Tai Kwun’s last-minute change of heart showed that “self-cen­sor­ship had failed”.

“The free­dom to speak is the ba­sis of our civil­i­sa­tion,” he added. “We have to safe­guard our free­dom of ex­pres­sion. We have to safe­guard our civil­i­sa­tion.”

He agreed free­dom of speech was shrink­ing and that peo­ple felt a “lack of se­cu­rity” but said the at­ten­tion given to the can­cel­la­tion of his talks and the re­ver­sal of the de­ci­sion had uni­fied peo­ple and could be the “be­gin­ning of change”.

Ma, who lives in Lon­don and is a Bri­tish pass­port holder as well as hold­ing Hong Kong res­i­dency, said he had in­formed his lo­cal MP that he was com­ing to Hong Kong.

Speak­ing freely: Ma speak­ing to re­porters af­ter ar­riv­ing at the Hong Kong in­ter­na­tional air­port. — AP

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