A publishing house known for supporting local creative works and not shying away from tomes on political issues has said that the organizers of the Hong Kong Book Fair have rejected its application to exhibit.
In response, Hillway Culture said it would set up another book show that “truly belongs to Hongkongers” instead.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the publisher said it was notified by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) that its application to participate in the Hong Kong Book Fair 2022 was not accepted.
Hillway Culture said it had participated in the book fair twice in the past. In January this year, it applied to take part in the book show according to the standard procedure.
“The application process and communication have been smooth as usual. HKTDC also sent an email earlier to inform us about participating in a booth selection meeting on May 6 at 10am,” the post read.
“However, HKDTC suddenly called us at 7pm on May 5, claiming that there was a ‘technical problem’ and that the booth selection meeting had to be temporarily canceled.”
Hillway Culture added that the organizers sent another email at 11pm, reiterating that “due to unforeseen technical problems”, the selection would be delayed, and new arrangements would be announced as soon as possible.
However, the publisher said it received an email from HKDTC on Monday, notifying it that its application was not accepted and its deposit would be refunded.
Hillway Culture added that, since there was no explanation, it called the organizers on Tuesday to find out why, but was just told that “no more information could be provided.”
The publishing house said it did not see any reason for its application to be rejected given that it had been an exhibitor in the past and has no record of violating any rules. Moreover, it applied for a bigger booth area and would have been paying more participation fees this year, it added.
It said the organizers’ handling led it to suspect there is an inside story to the rejection.
The annual Hong Kong Book Fair is one of the largest book shows in Asia.
For many years, it was regarded as a bastion of publishing freedom, with the event drawing many mainland Chinese who would buy books banned on the mainland.
However, at last year’s fair – the first to be held after Beijing imposed the national security law in Hong Kong – many booksellers and publishers steered clear of books that could be seen as violating the law by some, especially politically sensitive tomes.
Hillway Culture was one of the few booths that still exhibited such books, with some groups reporting it for selling three titles that they claimed violated the security law.
The publisher said police officers later inspected its booth and told it that there were no problems with its books.
It added that HKTDC did not give it any warnings or mention anything about violations.
Hillway Culture reiterated that it has always indicated its willingness to follow the procedures of HKTDC and law enforcement agencies in its interviews with the media.
“We are well aware that we are not a publishing organization that is close to the official position, but allowing the general public to express dissent and recognize voices from across the spectrum is what it should be like to respect Hong Kong’s core values such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” said Hillway Culture in its statement.
It also expressed great regret over HKTDC’s decision.
Responding to queries from Coconuts, an HKTDC spokesman said: “In organizing any event, it is not uncommon that some applications may not be successful. We do not comment on individual cases.”
In its Facebook post, Hillway Culture also announced an alternative book fair it is organizing, which roughly translates as the “Hongkonger Book Fair”.
“As the name suggests, we hope to hold a book fair that truly belongs to Hongkongers and one that Hongkongers deserve to own,” said the publisher.
According to its event page, the tentative date of the book show will be somewhere in July or August for five to seven days.
It will be held online and in person in Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok or other accessible spots.