Ex­iled Chi­nese au­thor in Hong Kong urges ‘courage’ to de­fend free speech

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

HONG KONG: Dis­si­dent Chi­nese au­thor Ma Jian hit out at threats to free­dom of speech on Satur­day 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 dis­ap­pear­ing un­der an as­sertive Bei­jing.

Ma, whose books are banned in main­land China, pro­moted his lat­est novel China Dream at two speak­ing events Satur­day.

“Self-cen­sor­ship is noth­ing won­der­ful and we have to have the courage to break that,” he told re­porters on Satur­day morn­ing at a press con­fer­ence 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 11th hour Fri­day af­ter a re­place­ment lo­ca­tion also dropped out.

Ma, 65, said Tai Kwun’s last­minute change of heart showed “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.”

Speak­ing to a packed au­di­ence about his new book later on Satur­day night at Tai Kwun, Ma had fur­ther words of warn­ing for Hong Kong peo­ple.

“You might not feel it now, but per­haps your chil­dren might have to read Xi Jin­ping Thought as their text book in school later,” he said through a trans­la­tor. He also said that Xi’s hard­line ap­proach in China had been un­ex­pected.

“At first we thought Xi Jin­ping wasn’t a Red Guard, he wouldn’t think he owned the coun­try,” he said. “But we were wrong.”

Ma, who lives in Lon­don and has a British pass­port as well as hold­ing Hong Kong res­i­dency, ear­lier said he had in­formed his lo­cal MP that he was com­ing to Hong Kong and they had told the British for­eign min­istry.

“I know that they would pro­tect me if I ever dis­ap­peared and would look for me,” he said.

“This is what I can do in a demo­cratic coun­try.”

Tai Kwun’s di­rec­tor Ti­mothy Cal­nin said on Thurs­day it had can­celled Ma’s talks be­cause it did not want to be “a plat­form to pro­mote the po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests of any in­di­vid­ual”.

Back­track­ing Fri­day, Cal­nin said pub­lic state­ments by Ma had clar­i­fied he would not use the venue to “pro­mote his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests”.

Ma had said from the be­gin­ning of the row that he is a nov­el­ist, not a politi­cian.

“If any­body sep­a­rates the po­lit­i­cal el­e­ments from other things in nov­els, that only shows the ig­no­rance of that per­son,” he told re­porters.

He added that the fact he had en­tered Hong Kong freely af­ter con­cerns he would not be al­lowed in made him think the gov­ern­ment had not been in­volved in the two venues’ de­ci­sions to bar him.

Lit­er­ary fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers said they could not com­ment when asked by re­porters on Satur­day for more de­tail on the rea­sons Tai Kwun had given them for the orig­i­nal can­cel­la­tions and the back­track.

Ma Jian

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