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The trouble with Oiwan….

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

  1. Support for her cause would be hard to muster because people might feel as though Oiwan invited trouble by publishing a picture that she knew might provoke the ire of Hong Kong Censors. Civil disobedience is not as cherished as it was in the past;
  2. Support would quickly wane as the matter did not seem as urgent or foreboding as the Hao Wu case. Oiwan is facing 12 months in jail, a costly defense and a hefty fine, but she is not incarcerated at the moment;
  3. Bloggers might not pass the torch, or the hat, because the issues are complicated and Hong Kong specific;
  4. People would find it hard to empathize with Oiwan: Hong Kong is part of China and censorship is expected here.

EastSouthWestNorth, Rebecca McKinnon Boing Boing, Lost Laowai, Image Thief and a handful of others have done their best to explain the issues while rightfully advocating for one of their own. An advocacy group on Facebook has collected 69 members, but few calls for action have subsequently originated from western computers.

Oiwan did not invite this kind of response. She put her journalistic foot in the water and was dragged below the surface by the well-mapped but unpredictable undertow that is the Hong Kong Television and Entertainment Authority (TELA) and the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT). These are the same forces that roiled against a Hong Kong University student newspaper for a ridiculously benign sex survey, Michelangelo’s David in a 1995 magazine ad and Cupid and Psyche on a book cover at the most recent Hong Kong Book Fair.

The charges against Oiwan created a tremor in the blogsphere , but the aftershocks are so imperceptible that we have gone about life as usual. Some Hong Kong bloggers are taking up the cause by posting other classic art works as an act of protest and solidarity. The rest of us should also act on her behalf.

I met with John Kennedy of Global Voices Online today and he spoke again to the issues involved in Oiwan’s case that affect all of us:

  • He thinks, and public opinion in Hong Kong backs him up, that the Tribunal and the TELA are antiques in need of dry storage and replacement (my sorry metaphor, not his). He thinks the Tribunal, which operates independently without reliable standards and accountability, should be elected officials that have to answer to the public.
  • He feels, and again is far from alone in his opinion, that a legal and reliably quantifiable definition of “obscene” or “indecent” should be adopted.

The latter is important to all of us as it would prevent dissidents from being punished at the whim of judges with personal or political agendas.

IF blogger’s rights can be upheld in Hong Kong it can instruct and inform governments and lawmakers everywhere about the need for free speech legislation and reform. Oiwan, who has no desire to be a martyr, is every man and woman who wants to speak their mind or read another’s in cyberspace. And, as Rebecca McKinnon has said so well in her blog, Oiwan is a writer who has devoted herself to the non-profit sector most of her adult life, so she has few financial resources to assist with what will be a costly and important court battle.

Help Oiwan and help yourself with a little link love to her cause blog (Banned in Mainland China), a posting of the banner below (feel free to use my bandwidth) and by, please, donating a few dollars to her legal campaign by clicking here:

Free Oiwan Lam

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