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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, vol. 2, no. 4, July 2016

Hong Kong Bookseller Blows Whistle on Chinese Government

On June 17, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom praised Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee for revealing details of his illegal imprisonment by Chinese authorities and for refusing to identify customers in China who purchased books that are critical of Chinese officials.

At a press conference in Hong Kong, Lam confirmed that he and four other employees of Mighty Current, a book publisher, and its bookstore, the Causeway Bay Bookstore, were illegally detained last year and held incommunicado on the Chinese mainland. Lam, the bookstore manager, was allowed to return to Hong Kong when he promised to retrieve records of Chinese customers of Mighty Current and give them to authorities.

“We join Lam in condemning the Chinese government for its illegal arrest and detention of people engaged in the publication and sale of books,” the groups said in a statement. “In addition, we demand the speedy release of Gui Minhai, the last Mighty Current employee in custody, and call on Hong Kong authorities to protect the Hong Kong booksellers from further retribution by the Chinese government.”

Bookstores to Hold Banned Books Week Events on September 27

Bookstores in seven cities will hold events on the same night during Banned Books Week this year (September 25–October 1) to highlight challenges to books written by authors of diverse backgrounds. The bookstore events will be held on the evening of September 27 by The Book Cellar (Chicago), Books & Books (Miami), Housing Works Bookstore (New York), Politics & Prose Bookstore (Washington, D.C.), Powell’s Books (Portland, Oregon), Skylight Books (Los Angeles), and Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver).

To help bookstores participate in Banned Books Week, the American Booksellers Association will distribute a promotional kit in the August Red Box. The kit will be sent to the most active IndieBound stores; stores participating in the Ingram Banned Books Week ordering program; stores that received the kit last year; and, while supplies last, stores that request the kit by e-mailing

R.I. Governor Vetoes “Revenge Porn” Law

Citing concerns about free speech, Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has vetoed a bill that would have made booksellers, newspapers, and other media criminally liable for the distribution of nude images without the affirmative consent of the people pictured. The bill was an attempt to address the problem of “revenge porn,” the posting of nude pictures of people by former lovers and others. “We do not have to choose between protecting privacy rights and respecting the principles of free speech,” Raimondo wrote in her June 20 veto message.

American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) and Media Coalition joined ACLU, the Rhode Island Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition in urging Raimondo to veto the bill. In 2014, ABFE joined five Arizona bookstores in filing a legal challenge to a “revenge porn” law because it lacked adequate protections for booksellers, including a requirement that the person charged intended to harass the person in the photo. A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional. The state did not appeal the decision.

ABFE Joins Amicus Briefs in Two Free Speech Cases

Booksellers have joined publishers, authors, and librarians in urging a federal appeals court to invalidate an Idaho law that would prohibit undercover investigations of animal abuse and other illegal conduct at public or private agricultural facilities. On Friday, June 24, ABFE, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the Authors Guild, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Media Coalition Foundation filed an amicus brief in a case challenging the law before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

ABFE, AAP, and others have also filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit that could have a potentially crippling effect on the public debate of important subjects. In a case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a doctor is suing another physician for criticizing his use of a drug to treat patients for conditions for which the drug has not been approved. Dr. Edward L. Tobinick, the owner of a medical clinic, is suing Dr. Steven Novella for the critical statements he posted on his website. Tobinick alleges that the criticism violates a law that prohibits commercial competitors from making false statements about each other’s products. The amicus brief argues that the criticism is protected by the First Amendment.

“Free Speech” Column Remembers Rhett Jackson

In his June 1 “Free Speech” column, ABFE Director Chris Finan remembered Rhett Jackson, owner of the Happy Bookseller in Columbia, South Carolina, and a former president of the American Booksellers Association. Jackson, who died on May 26, fought for many important causes during his long life. A former member of the ABFE board, he loved to tell people that Playboy gave him an award for protecting free speech.

The American Booksellers for Free Expression, a program of the American Booksellers Association, is the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. Please visit our resources page for information about how booksellers can prepare for a variety of free speech emergencies or email In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
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