IPA, EIBF Raise Alarms Over Hong Kong’s New Security Law

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The International Publishers Association and the European and International Booksellers Federation warn of pressured freedoms in Hong Kong.

In the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong, March 24. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Hanna Yohanna

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

IPA: ‘From Intimidation to Restrictive Security Laws’
As Xia Baolong—director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office—was giving an annual National Security Day speech on Monday (April 15) about the importance of China’s newly implemented Article 23, Jessie Pang and Joyce Zhou were writing for Reuters about how some western governments, including that of the United States, are updating their travel advisories because of the new legislation.

The Canadian government, Pang and Zhou write, said that people need to “exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong becuase of the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” While nearly 300 people, the report says, have been arrested under the security regulations, “liberal media outlets and civil society groups have been shut down,” according to the report.

In Geneva, the International Publishers Association (IPA) has produced a statement of concern today (April 16), warning publishing members of the organization’s 101 national chapters in 81 countries, of “the limits this law will create on the freedom to publish in Hong Kong.”

The IPA statement points to the March 19 statement by Volker Türk, the United Nations’ high commissioner for  human rights, in which Türk said that the law “was rushed through the legislature through an accelerated process, in spite of serious concerns raised about the incompatibility of many of its provisions with international human rights law.”

Echoing one of the most persistent alarms in creative communities about autocratic incursions into expressive and publishing freedom, Türk said, “As we have already seen, such provisions readily lead to self-censorship and chilling of legitimate speech and conduct, in respect of matters of public interest on which open debate is vital.”

You may recall that a stringent national security law was enacted in June 2020 in Hong Kong by Beijing. Amy Hawkins and Helen Davidson on Thursday (April 11) wrote from Taipei for The Guardian that the new Article 23 goes beyond the 2020 meansure, covering “newly defined acts of treason, espionage, theft of state secrets, sedition, and foreign interference.”

Kristenn Einarsson

In its statement today, the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee chair Kristenn Einarsson—who is also the founding CEO of Norway’s World Expression Forum (WEXFO, May 27 and 28)—is quoted, saying, “The last 10 years have seen publishing and bookselling in Hong Kong decimated.

“From intimidation to restrictive security laws, we must recognize the tools of censorship and resist them.”

EIBF: ‘Under Heavy Threat From Repressive Security Laws’

Einarsson is joined in his condemnation of Article 23 by Jean-Luc Treutenaere, co-president of the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) in Brussels.

Jean-Luc Treutenaere

Treutenaere says, “ The steady deterioration of the freedom of expression in Hong Kong is alarming and disheartening.

“The book publishing and bookselling communities are under threat from repressive security laws, which are resulting in vibrant and beloved bookshops shutting down.

“Any closure, and particularly in current times, is a massive loss to the book world.”

In its own statement at its site, the Booksellers Federation writes, “In 2022, EIBF highlighted the case of Lam Wing-Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller who was the subject of censorship from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“Mr. Lam’s bookshop Causeway Bay Books had been running in Hong Kong for decades, selling books that were deemed unlawful in mainland China, and defying the oppression of the government.

“In 2015, Mr. Lam was one of five booksellers and publishers who disappeared from various locations in Hong-Kong, Thailand, and mainland China. Fearing extradition to China, in 2019, Mr. Lam escaped to Taiwan, where he has recreated his bookshop. This space has become a gathering place for advocates of freedom of expression, democracy and human rights.”

And in its edition of the statement, the IPA writes of how it “has previously expressed concern about the situation for publishers in Hong Kong.

“In September 2022, the IPA messaging reads, “five authors and publishers were sentenced to 19 months in prison for ‘conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display, and/or reproduce seditious publications.'”

In 2018, the IPA, seated in its biennial Publishers Congress in New Delhi, honored the Swedish-Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai with its 10,000 Swiss-franc Prix Voltaire directed by James Taylor to recognize “exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and enabling others to exercise their freedom of expression.” Gui co-owned Mighty Current and was one of the Causeway Books booksellers. Gui currently is imprisoned in China, and the IPA continues to call for his release.

On Thursday (April 11), Frances Mao reported for BBC News that a Portuguese man had become the first European citizen jailed under the security law. Joseph John, as that report has it, was arrested “for posting pro-independence and anti-Chinese content on social media, after returning to Hong Kong to visit family in 2022.

A Programming Note: WEXFO 2024

On May 27, the first day of the two-day World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer, Publishing Perspectives will moderate an afternoon-length publishing-specific program titled Access to Information, Books, and Ideas: How to Advance the Freedom to Read.

Publishing Perspectives will moderate this event, with documentation to follow, in which speakers will explore how “politicians must look at the funding to support reading, not as funding something ‘nice to have,’ but as a pure necessity in the fight to uphold our democracies.”

Among the most serious conference-setting examinations of the gathering pressure on publishing to date, this event will bring together speakers including:

Speakers in the special May 27 focus on advancing the freedom to read are, on the top row from left, Miha Kovač; Anne Mangen; Even Aleksander Hagen; and Karine Pansa. On the lower row from left are Tora Åsling; Mariann Schjeide; and Laurie Halse Anderson

Ticketing information and other details about the 2024 WEXFO, May 27 and 28, is here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on issues of the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and on the International Publishers Association is here. More on the World Expression Forum, WEXFO, is here, and more on the European and International Booksellers Federation is here. i

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.