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

AFP  |  Hong Kong 

Dissident Chinese hit out at threats to freedom of speech 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

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

The title plays on Chinese 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 Saturday morning at a press conference at the new arts centre, which hosts the International Literary Festival and had originally cancelled his talks.

The venue reinstated them at the eleventh hour 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 in 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 and is a British passport holder as well as holding residency, said he had informed his 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 said 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

"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 Saturday for more detail on the reasons had given them for the original cancellations and the backtrack.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, November 10 2018. 12:05 IST