Hong Kong organisers of an exhibition by dissident Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao have cancelled the event in the Chinese-ruled territory, following what they said were threats made by Chinese authorities.
- Badiucao’s work highlights rights violations and abuse of power in China
- Organisers said Chinese authorities made threats “related to the artist”
- Democracy activists say Beijing eroding Hong Kong’s freedom of expression
The exhibition by Badiucao — a persistent thorn in the side of leaders in Beijing — was to have been his first international solo event.
His work highlights themes including rights violations and abuse of power under Chinese Communist Party rule.
He often satirises Chinese President Xi Jinping, including through references to Winnie the Pooh — images of the Disney character are banned on Chinese social media, as they are used to ridicule Mr Xi.
“We are sorry to announce that the exhibition ‘Gongle’, by Chinese artist Badiucao, has been cancelled out of safety concerns,” wrote the organisers, Hong Kong Free Press, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, in a statement.
“The decision follows threats made by the Chinese authorities relating to the artist. Whilst the organisers value freedom of expression, the safety of our partners remains a major concern.”
The statement did not specify the threats. China’s representative Liaison Office in Hong Kong could not be reached for comment.
Badiucao, who is an Australian citizen, was due to give a question-and-answer session at the opening alongside members of the Russian anti-Kremlin Pussy Riot punk band, as well as Hong Kong’s young democracy leader, Joshua Wong.
The artist, considered one of the most prominent Chinese political cartoonists, gave no immediate response to Reuters when contacted by email.
Earlier this year, Badiucao organised a global protest campaign calling attention to the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Information on the massacre, which reportedly saw thousands of pro-democracy protesters killed, is suppressed within China.
Hong Kong’s freedoms ‘eroding further’
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle, with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms, including freedom of expression, not enjoyed elsewhere in China.
But those freedoms have come under threat, pro-democracy activists say, with increased meddling by Beijing.
Amnesty International, one of the co-organisers of the exhibition, expressed concern.
“The threat Badiucao faces exemplifies how much overseas Chinese dissidents need to consider when they do their work,” said Amnesty China researcher Patrick Poon.
“It’s particularly worrying that it happens here in Hong Kong as the space for freedom of expression is eroding further this year,” Mr Poon added.
Last month, Hong Kong authorities refused to renew a work visa for the Asia news editor of the Financial Times, soon after he hosted a talk by an independence activist at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC).
“The incident might make other dissidents and artists rethink whether it’s safe for them to do their work in Hong Kong as they may also face a similar situation in future,” Mr Poon added.
Hong Kong Free Press editor Tom Grundy, declined to give specifics as to the nature of the threats.