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China was ‘lawless’ and ‘brazen’ in booksellers abduction incident, PEN America report finds

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, released the findings of a report into the Causeway Bay booksellers incident

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, released the findings of a report into the Causeway Bay booksellers incident

China’s lawless and brazen actions in reaching across boundaries to detain five Hong Kong booksellers has set a chilling precedent that should not be allowed to happen again, according to the conclusion of a report by PEN America.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, an association of prominent literary writers and editors that works to advance literature and to defend free expression, set out the findings of a report into the incident which made headlines around the world. She told a packed FCC on November 5 that the incident called into question the strength and force of the One Country, Two Systems framework, adding: “Around the world, the role and position of Hong Kong was called into question.”

Nossel also warned that China’s willingness to insist that ethnicity trumps nationality – one of the booksellers was Swedish, another British – was a ‘really worrying development’ which could in the future impact on Chinese people around the world.

Lam Wing-kee, one of the abducted men, spoke as a member of a panel at the FCC which also included the most senior member of the Hong Kong legislative council, James To, and Bao Pu, a well-known Hong Kong publisher of books about the Chinese government. Lam accused Chinese president Xi Jinping of being a ‘stubborn and close-minded’ authoritarian desperate to keep his CCP members in check. He said officials like Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai – both jailed for corruption – were ‘pushed off their thrones’ but added: “There are plenty we don’t know about.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Lam, the founder of Causeway Bay Books who was detained in China for eight months and made to give a false confession, warned that China was intent on restricting the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. He said: “This case shows undoubtedly that the Chinese government is tightening its rule over Hong Kong.”

He cited the recent announcement from Beijing that it would issue a new interpretation of the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s constitution – following the controversial swearing in of two young pro-independence lawmakers, as well as the Hong Kong government’s call for a judicial review on the matter. “This not only shows that the Hong Kong government has been reduced merely to a pawn of Beijing, it also shows Beijing wants to maintain control over Hong Kong as soon as possible.”

Lam said that the rise of the pro-democracy and pro-independence movements in Hong Kong was a result of ‘the Chinese government’s severe interference with Hong Kong affairs’ since the handover. But he added: “Hong Kong people are still fighting and should not give up.”

Bao explained to the press conference how the Chinese government was using its AVIP project – China’s crackdown on what it sees as insulting or vulgar content – to silence those publishing any material potentially embarrassing to the government. Since 2010 it was also tasked with ensuring that such material was not distributed in Hong Kong, including a move to suppress media outlets in the city and target those printing such material.

He added that the legal framework supporting One Country, Two Systems was Hong Kong’s greatest asset, and that China’s recent actions were ‘not strictly legal.’



Human Rights Press Awards

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The Human Rights Press Awards are run by the FCC, Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The ceremony took place in May 2017. Click here to see the winners.