sqprotest Protests at London Book FairUK-based Tibetans, Uyghurs and Chinese democracy activists joined together on 15th-18th April to challenge the visiting CCP propaganda chiefs Li Changchun and Liu Binjie during the London Book Fair, covered in this BBC TV report.

The Book Fair was co-organised by the Chinese state GAPP propaganda department this year, meaning that the works of dissident writers are being silenced in what should be a celebration of creativity and individual expression. In contrast, China continues to crack down heavily on protests occurring across Tibet.

Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur activists hold signs in Chinese and English throughout the Book Fair speech

The Chinese state is deperate to popularise it’s propaganda views and whitewash it’s abysmal human rights record by using economic strength to buy it’s way into large scale events. The London Book Fair at Earl’s Court, London between 16th and 18th April is one such example. By co-organising the event, the CCP’s GAPP propaganda department has attempted to censor the works of Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur literary figures who criticise the state; something which is part and parcel of any truly developed nation.

But despite this being the twenty-first centuary, China is still afraid of free expression and practices the kind of book-burning tactics employed by the Soviet Union and other oppressive regimes of history in a failed attempt to avoid criticism. The CCP is not the kind of organisation which we, as a free state, should allow to help organise such events. The Guardian published this letter from the coalition before the Book Fair, which the British Council replied to, but from inside the event itself it was clear that their claims that writers critical of the Chinese state would be represented were unfounded, making it even more important that activists made their voices heard.

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Poetry reading from Tibetans, Uyghurs and banned Chinese writers at the London Book Fair, by Paul, Tibet Society

SFT UK, along with other members of the Chinese, Uyghur and Tibetan Solidarity coalition, organised a series of events inside the Book Fair on 16th April, including readings of banned poetry by Tibetan, Chinese and Uyghur writers and a silent protest during GAPP Director Liu Binjie’s keynote speech, where activists dotted around the crowd held signs in Chinese and English, criticising Chinese censorship and focusing on imprisoned intellectuals such as Liu Xiabao and Dolma Kyab. Enraged by the protests, Liu Binjie cancelled his speech and instead had it read out by Zhang Fuhai, (International Director of GAPP), creating great embaressment for the propaganda department.

Security were seen pointing out protesters after Tiananmen Square massacre survivor Shao Jiang protested at the state-approve China Pavillion stand earlier in the day, holding signs reading ‘Free speech is not a crime’ and ‘Stop literary persecution.’ Security asked Shao Jiang to stop the silent protest but he declined, then attendants at the China Pavillion tried to block people seeing him with screens, which he continued to walk around. This seemed to have promoted Liu Binjie’s sudden withdrawal from his keynote address, where he had been due to speak alongside UK minister Ed Vaizey. After the speech, a veiled threat was issued by Chinese officials to their co-organisers, saying “we’ve spent money renting this venue. I hope the organisers can be responsible for the money we’ve spent.”

Members of the UK PEN, one of the organisers of the Book Fair, joined the silent protests on 19th April

The coalition also organised readings of banned poetry in a sympathetic exhibitor’s space, including poems by Tibetan writer and blogger Woeser, and fellow Tibetan writers Ombar of Shardungri (Eastern Snow Mountain) Namlo Yak, who escaped into exile in the 90s. There was also a press conference at the pro-democracy Independent Chinese PEN stand, which had been set up under the name ’57 Publishing Company’, where the repression of Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur writers was discussed and where Chinese writers who had been banned from representation at the event, Qi Jiazhen, Bei Ling and Ma Jian, were given the forum denied by the GAPP. Ma Jian smothered his face in red paint as an act of defiance against the Chinese state and said “no Chinese writers enjoy freedom of speech. When you see 180 Chinese publishers here it may appear that there is a great variety but in reality they all come from the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party… This invitation dishonours the values that make Western civilisation strong.”

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Poetry reading from Tibetans, Uyghurs and banned Chinese writers at the London Book Fair, by Paul, Tibet Society

The day before the book fair, Sunday 15th April, Tibetans joined with Uyghurs and pro-democracy Chinese to protest during a dinner at the Chinese Embassy, attended by Li Changchun and members of China’s propaganda department. A contingent of bussed-in Chinese flag waving ‘supporters, known for being paid to attend such visits to bang drums and obscure protests, were placed between protest groups of Tibetans and Falun Gong, leaving the CCP the surrounded minority for once! As always, the ‘supporters’ brought drums but no passion, and were easily drowned out by the Tibetan contingent’s passionate chants. The Chinese officials declined to enter the main door of the Embassy, again forced to drive round the block to the side entrance, having to sneak into their own building to avoid protests. As soon as they were inside, the Chinese contingent stopped banging their drums, their enthusiasm suddently gone as soon as their job was done.

Tibetans drown out an unenthusiastic contingent of CCP ‘supporters’ at the Embassy

2012 is Olympic year for London, and as we inherit the Olympic principles which were damaged by China’s oppressive Beijing games of 2008, it’s important that Britain makes a telling contribution to the Olympic legacy by restoring some of these ideals. Ideals like equality, fair competition and free expression; things which are only further diluted when we are blinded by China’s money and allow the CCP to organise key London events.

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Protesting at CCP propaganda leaders’ dinners at the Chinese Embassy, 15th April and at Trafalgar Square, 17th April

Inside Tibet, after over 30 self-immolations and protests across the country, the latest reportedly on 19th April, when young laymen Choephag Kyab and Sonam apparently died after setting themselves on fire in Zamthang, Ngaba. The Tibetan people are making their calls for freedom, rights and independence heard, even laying down their lives to oppose Chinese rule. And China is showing it’s true face; the footage below released on 17th April by International Campaign for Tibet showing Chinese police beating Losang Jamyang, a 22-year-old former monk who set himself on fire in protest against China’s oppressive rule on 14th January; the police kick him after flooring him with what appears to be a trolly, despite his obvious injuries from being on fire. Unseen in the footage is what happened afterwards; Chinese police opened fire on protesters, causing serious injury. This is just one of a series of similar incidents this year in which Chinese police have opened fire on, beaten and killed peaceful protesters, in one case killing a 12-year-old boy.

Footage shot in Ngaba, Tibet on 14th January

This true face of the CCP is not what it’s propaganda leaders wants the world to see, and is why China invests so much money and resources on controlling the free flow of information and the sharing of opinion inside Tibet. This is not a country which should be running a celebration of world literature, making a farce of the principles behind the creative arts. We have both the right and the duty to stand with Tibetans in Tibet and give voice to both their creativity and their demands, showing Chinese leaders that money or not, we will not kow-tow to them and their brutal and backward policies.

SFT UK is run mainly by volunteers who use our own resources. You can help us grow by joining the rangzen circle to help us campaign not just now but all year, every year until Tibet is free.
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