Occupy Central

Asia Society says ‘judgment error’ led to event ban on student activist Joshua Wong

Executive director Alice Mong says she takes full responsibility, but Wong’s party says damage has already been done

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 12:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 August, 2017, 1:07pm

Alice Mong, executive director of Asia Society Hong Kong, on Friday said she took full responsibility for the educational centre’s much-criticised decision to ban student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung from speaking at an event in support of freedom of expression.

“As executive director, I am responsible for everything that happens at our centre – including this current incident. The error in judgment lies with me,” she wrote in an email.

Earlier on Friday, the society issued a statement admitting it was wrong to tell literary group PEN Hong Kong that Wong, seen by many as the face of the 2014 Occupy movement, must not speak at its handover anniversary book launch, which was scheduled to take place at the Asia Society.

The event was also scheduled just before President Xi Jinping’s visit last week to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

Mong blamed “an error in judgment at the staff level”.

PEN Hong Kong, a charity which promotes literature and freedom of expression, had told the Post that it was Mong who made the decision and that she stood by it despite objections during a meeting in early June.

Sarah Schafer, an executive committee member of PEN Hong Kong, added that Mong had always been very supportive of the group and that it welcomed Friday’s statement reaffirming Asia Society’s commitment to free speech.

The latest development came two days after the Post originally reported on the ban which led to widespread concerns about censorship.

US congressman Chris Smith, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, earlier slammed the Asia Society.

Smith told the Guardian on Thursday: “It seems this venerable organisation is too easily abandoning its core mission and kowtowing to Beijing’s ‘red lines’ in Hong Kong.”

Wong, whose essay “My Journey as a Student Activist” was one of the pieces included in the anthology of fiction, poetry and graphic art about Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, was among the seven contributors who agreed to give a reading and to participate in a question-and-answer session.

PEN Hong Kong’s executive committee refused to accept Mong’s condition and moved the event to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong.

In the end, Wong did not show up as he was arrested that evening at a protest during Xi’s visit. Demosisto, Wong’s political party where he is secretary general, on Friday issued a statement saying that Asia Society’s “self censorship” was a sign of the erosion of expression and freedom of the press in Hong Kong.

Last year, the Asia Society called off a screening of a documentary about the 2014 Occupy movement at its Hong Kong centre.

The society is chaired by property developer Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, a vocal supporter of previous Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying. Lau Ming-wai, whom Leung picked to chair the government’s Commission on Youth, is a society board member.