An independent publisher founded by a teacher who was injured in the 2019 protests and unrest has been rejected from participating in the Hong Kong Book Fair.

Hong Kong Book Fair 2021
People visit the Hillway Press stall in last year’s Hong Kong Book Fair. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In a statement published on Tuesday night, Hillway Press said it had been notified by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) on Monday evening that its request to participate in July’s book fair had not been approved, “without any explanation.”

The publisher had been been invited to join a book fair meeting on May 6, but was told the night before that it had been delayed because of “unforeseeable technical problems,” the statement read.

Raymond Yeung, the founder of Hillway Press, told HKFP that he had asked the HKTDC about the technical difficulties, but was not given any specifics.

The publisher said in its statement that Hong Kong’s annual book fair was a “thermometer measuring the freedom of publishing in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong Book Fair 2021
Poster promoting the book “A Journey Through the Brick Wall” by former liberal studies teacher Raymond Yeung in Hong Kong Book Fair 2021. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“The HKTDC’s rejection of an institution which exhibited socio-political texts and was willing to abide by regulations… means that Hong Kong readers won’t have the opportunity to encounter these books,” the statement read. The publisher said it was was “extremely regretful” that the organiser was “unwilling to give a reasonable explanation to ease people’s concerns.”

In response to HKFP’s enquiry, the HKTDC said it would not comment on individual cases as “[when] organising any event, it is not uncommon that some applications may not be successful.”

Yeung told HKFP that the largest cost for them was the time invested in preparation for the book fair. “There is a planned release for a new book in July and we had negotiated with contractors about the design of several large events,” Yeung said.

He added that they had printed more products with the large number of book fair customers in mind. “We may have overprinted, but we may be able to sell all of them over a longer period,” he said.

National security allegations

During last year’s book fair, Hillway Press attracted complaints over three books that HKTDC believed might be in breach of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Raymond Yeung
Raymond Yeung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

The book seller wrote on Tuesday’s statement that police officers had inspected their booth the day after the complaints were made last year and told them there were no issues with the books in question.

Yeung told HKFP that while the HKTDC had sent them a letter afterwards, it only mentioned the complaints and reminded them to follow the law. “They did not say we had breached any rules,” he said, adding that there was no further follow-up by either the HKTDC or the police.

Back-up plan

Hillway Press said in its statement that it was “always mentally prepared to have an alternative plan” for being rejected from taking part in the annual book expo.

book fair
Hong Kong Book Fair 2019. File photo: GovHK.

The publisher announced in the same statement that it would be hosting its own book fair that “truly belongs to Hongkongers.”

Yeung said the main goal for the alternative book fair was to “include overseas Hongkongers,” as many who have left the city might want to be a part of events in Hong Kong or purchase local products.

He said the independent book expo would launch around the same time as Hong Kong Book Fair, which was scheduled for July 20 to 26.

However, he said it might be challenging to find an ideal venue at such short notice and was considering the possibility of hosting the event online.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.