“Why is the HKJA (Hong Kong Journalists Association) participating in the campaign for the immediate release of Liu Xiaobo?” Such questions were raised when some members found that your union is among the groups calling for the release of Liu, the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Such instinctive questioning is understandable, since Liu is not a journalist. However, if you read the constitution of JA, you will find that the action is in line with our objectives. According to Rule 2.5, JA has “(to) safeguard and promote freedom of expression in general and press freedom in particular so as to create a beneficial environment for journalism.”
Some may think the wider scope of safeguarding freedom of expression is too wide for a journalist trade union. I would argue to the contrary.
In an environment where freedom of expression is circumscribed, people may not dare to be interviewed by reporters and press freedom will thus be narrowed. Naturally, press freedom will also vanish if freedom of expression is curtailed. They are two sides of the same coin.
As we all know, Liu was sentenced to eleven years for six articles he wrote as well as the interviews he gave to the media. It is a vivid case of punishing those with dissenting views and a suppression of freedom of expression. JA would be failing to honour our duties if we keep silence on the issue.
Let me tell you a story at this juncture.
Apart from JA, there are ten non-government organisations in the campaign for the immediate release of Liu. With such a broad spectrum of support, it is no wonder that groups hold different positions. When discussing our specific demands, two long established groups insisted on the inclusion of “support Charter 08”. They pointed to the fact that the drafting and lobbying for signatures of the Charter 08 were the direct causes for the imprisonment of Liu.
With due respect, JA could not endorse the request because it contradicted our rules of safeguarding freedom of expression. If we endorse any particular “ism”, we are creating an unfriendly environment to the raising of other “isms”. Two fronts could not reach a consensus and we were on the brink of a split.
After my explanation and lobbying as well as the willingness of others to accommodate diverse views among group members, we agreed to the following compromise: “We support all Chinese nationals to the right to advocate Charter 08”. It accommodates the persistence of some groups and yet does not violate the rules of JA. It is true that freedom of expression empowers everyone the right to advocate what he or she believes.
When you read the newspaper advertisement carrying the aforesaid statement on December 3, don’t be surprised!
13th November 2010.