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Germany

Book fair dismisses official for treatment of Chinese dissidents

The organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair have fired project manager Peter Ripken after he prevented two Chinese activists from speaking at the fair's closing ceremony, bringing a sour note to an already disputed fair.

Dai Qing and Bei Ling speaking to reporters

Two Chinese activists were prevented from speaking

The decision to sack Ripken was made after he reportedly approached the Chinese environmental activist and writer Dai Qing before the closing ceremony and told her that she wasn't allowed to give a speech.

Afterwards, Ripken defended himself saying the German foreign ministry - which was co-hosting the book fair - didn't want Qing as a guest speaker, even though she had been informed by fair officials in September that she was to speak at the ceremony.

"These closing ceremonies had absolutely nothing to do with China," Ripken said.

"The foreign ministry has stated explicitly that this fair is not there just for China, and I acted in accordance with this wish," the 67-year-old added.

Reports said Ripken also prevented the Chinese activist and poet, Bei Ling, from taking part in the ceremony.

Project manager Peter Ripken

Ripken is accused of silencing critical Chinese writers

"Ongoing difficulties"

Book fair representatives said in a statement that "ongoing difficulties" with Ripken were what led to his immediate dismissal from the fair.

In the run-up to the fair, Ripken garnered widespread criticism after uninviting Dai Qing and Bei Ling from a symposium in Frankfurt.

Ripken said he was responding to pressure from China - the guest of honor of this year's book fair - not to let the activists participate in the symposium.

Bigger issues at hand?

Bei, who lives and works in the US, said it wasn't just Ripken who was against the activists giving speeches at the closing ceremony.

"[Ripken] and others told me that the foreign ministry was against our participation in the ceremony. I would like to know the reason why this is so," he said.

The foreign ministry has yet to comment on the affair. Chinese officials, however, were expressly against the participation of the two activists, especially Dai, who is regarded as a harsh critic of China's environmental policies.

During the five-day book fair in Frankfurt, grievances arose regarding oppression and freedom of speech in China.

In the place of the Chinese activists, a publicist from India and a representative of the German foreign ministry held speeches at the book fair's closing ceremony.


glb/Reuters/dpa
Editor: Michael Lawton

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