The international advocacy group PEN says there is an unprecedented urgency to defend the city’s freedom of expression.

At the relaunch of the chapter for writers, professors, and journalists, its president Jason Y.Ng warned of “Beijing’s long arm reaching into nearly every corner of Hong Kong’s civil society, from the newsroom to the classroom, from the book shop to the print shop.”

PEN Hong Kong launching event. Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

The group’s press release said that PEN Hong Kong “plans to be an active campaigner in defence of freedom of expression…[and] promote access to and appreciation of literature” It also said that it wanted to encourage “a deeper interest in the written word.”

See also: HKFP Interview: Author Jason Ng reflects on the Umbrella Movement and Hong Kong’s recent local elections

PEN Hong Kong. Photo: Jason Y. Ng.

Ng told HKFP that “for years, the Chinese language and English language writers’ communities have been completely segregated due to differences in language and readership. The time to unite these two is now and we have our work cut out for us.”

He added that PEN Hong Kong had many ideas in store, including publishing reports on issues related to freedom of expression, holding talks and seminars with other groups, holding “flash readings,” as well as reaching out to secondary schools and universities.

PEN Hong Kong. Photo: Jason Y. Ng.

It comes at a time when freedom of expression is coming under pressure in Hong Kong. The press release highlighted the Causeway Bay Books incident, which involved the disappearances of five booksellers at the end of last year. They resurfaced in the mainland months later amid much controversy. The bookstore was well known for selling banned and politically sensitive books. The high-profile disappearance was unprecedented and cast a shadow over Hong Kong’s publishing and literary scene.

PEN was founded in 1921 and now has 145 centres around the world. Its members include literary personalities ranging from Vaclav Havel to Margaret Atwood. It is widely known for playing a prominent role in helping writers such as Salman Rushdie, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Anna Politkovskaya.

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.