A literary festival in Macau has cancelled events with three writers after the organiser reportedly received news from authorities that they cannot be guaranteed entry into the city.

The Macau Literary Festival announced on Monday that authors James Church, Jung Chang and Suki Kim will not be able to attend this year’s festival, which is scheduled to take place from March 10 to March 25.

macau literary festival
Photo: The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival.

Hélder Beja, the festival’s programme director and co-founder, told Radio Macau he was”informally” notified that the writers’ presence in the former Portuguese colony was “ill-timed,” according to English-language news site Macau News. He said the festival was informed that the writers’ entry would not be guaranteed.

Beja said the organisers made the decision to cancel because they did not wish to put the writers in a difficult position, but gave no further details about the source of the information.

Jung Chang is the British-Chinese author of a biography on Mao Zedong and Wild Swans – a title which is banned in China. Suki Kim and James Church have both written about North Korea.

jung chang
Jung Chang. Photo: Flickr via Malmö stadsbibliotek.

In a statement on Wednesday, PEN Hong Kong expressed dismay at the news and called the refusal to grant entry “a censoring and authoritative move that we find deplorable.”

“We deem this to be a very worrying development, and one that infringes directly on the right to freedom of expression and on literary expression, which should be guaranteed in Macao as everywhere else,” the organisation, which supports freedom of expression, said.

“To ban authors solely on the base of the political acceptability of their writings, according to fuzzy standards that are not even publicly disclosed, is a very concerning development that cannot be defended.”

PEN Hong Kong added that, while it recognised immigration authorities’ discretion to decide who to allow into the city, it urged Macau “not to use access to their city as a covert tool of political control in determining what kind of books are deemed acceptable,” adding that doing so would harm the city’s cultural reputation and limit its citizens’ cultural exchanges.

HKFP has contacted Macau’s Immigration Services for comment.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.