Hong Kong Book Fair

‘Indecent’ classification for Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore will ‘bring shame’ to Hong Kong, online petition says

Adjudicator for Obscene Articles Tribunal calls for review of assessment system

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 11:21pm

More than 1,860 people have signed a petition demanding that Hong Kong’s Obscene Articles Tribunal withdraw its decision to classify a novel by popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami as “indecent”.

This latest development came as an adjudicator for the tribunal on Monday called for a review of the assessment system, suggesting changes such as recruiting adjudicators via random selection instead of self-recommendation, and increasing the manpower and time devoted to assessing a work.

The panel sparked an uproar earlier this month by classifying Murakami’s novel – Kishidancho Goroshi, or Killing Commendatore – as “indecent”. The rating means the work must not be distributed to anyone below 18 and must be sealed in a wrapper with printed warnings on the front and back covers.

The organiser of the annual Hong Kong Book Fair has told exhibitors to remove the book from their shelves, while public libraries have barred under-18 readers from borrowing it after the classification was widely publicised last week.

The novel revolves around a portrait artist whose wife suddenly wants a divorce. He goes to stay at a famous painter’s house and discovers a painting in the attic that shares the book’s title. Like much of Murakami’s work, the novel includes occasional sex scenes.

On Saturday, 21 groups, including some involved with the cultural and publishing sectors, jointly initiated an online petition asking the tribunal to withdraw the decision, saying that it “shamed Hong Kong”.

The petition statement said that many literary works had more explicit content than Killing Commendatore, and the petitioners were worried that if the novel was deemed to be “indecent”, most literary works might also fall under this category.

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The petitioners noted that Murakami’s books had never previously been classified as “indecent” in mainland China, Taiwan or Hong Kong.

“If this is set to be a precedent case, Hong Kong would become the most conservative Chinese area,” the statement said. “This would definitely bring shame to Hongkongers. Members from the cultural and publishing sectors would [find it] difficult to set foot in the international arena.”

If this is set to be a precedent case, Hong Kong would become the most conservative Chinese area
Petition statement

On Monday afternoon, 1,869 people and 15 groups had signed it.

The tribunal made its interim classification on 12 July. If the book’s publisher, China Times Publishing from Taiwan, wants to appeal, it needs to do so within 14 days.

A spokeswoman from the publisher said: “About whether to appeal, we will need to have internal discussions first before we have a clearer picture what to do.”

As to whether the publisher will label the books as “indecent” before they are sent to Hong Kong, she said she will discuss the matter with Hong Kong bookstores and handle it in accordance with the law.

Ben Lam Siu-pan, who is on the list of 505 adjudicators for the tribunal, referred to the classification as an “international laughing stock” and said there should be a review of the current assessment system.

“The current system is not convincing enough,” Lam told RTHK on Monday morning. “If more adjudicators could be added, and they could be randomly selected … [the panel] would be more representative.”

He said the current process of recruiting adjudicators through self-recommendation could allow conservative or liberal groups to mobilise their members to join the assessment panel and possibly influence its decisions.

Instead, he said, the tribunal could take reference from the jury system, which selects members randomly from a list of eligible residents.

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While preliminary assessment of a work is done by a judge and two adjudicators within five days, with some cases extended to 10 days, Lam said more time and manpower should be allocated.

“A review of the law might be needed. Five days is too rushed – can [the length of assessment] be extended to seven or 10 days?” Lam said, adding that the number of adjudicators involved in each case could be increased to as many as nine.

This is not the first decision from the tribunal to ignite controversy in the city. In 1995, for example, a picture of Michelangelo’s David statue in a newspaper advertisement was ruled to be “indecent”.

The government launched public consultations in 2008 regarding a review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance. While a proposal to review the ordinance, for example by increasing the total number of adjudicators from about 500 to a maximum of 1,500, was submitted by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to the Legislative Council in 2015, no updates have been given.

The Judiciary, of which the tribunal part of, said it would not comment on individual cases.