Sun, Nov 11, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Chinese dissident in HK urges ‘courage’ to defend freedom

AFP, HONG KONG

Chinese dissident writer Ma Jian speaks to reporters after arriving at Hong Kong International Airport on Friday.

Photo: AP

Dissident Chinese author Ma Jian (馬建) yesterday hit out at threats to freedom of speech, saying it was the “basis of civilization” after a struggle to find a venue to host his talks at Hong Kong’s literary festival.

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

The title plays on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) 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,” Ma told a news conference at the new Tai Kwun arts center, which hosts the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and had originally canceled 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 civilization,” he added. “We have to safeguard our freedom of expression. We have to safeguard our civilization.”

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

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

Backtracking on Friday, Calnin said public statements by Ma had clarified that 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.

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