Second book on China is blocked

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The Independent Online
HARPERCOLLINS - already beset by an authors' revolt after dumping a book by Chris Patten - faces further turmoil after putting on ice a second book which contains criticisms of the Chinese regime.

Blocking of the book is fresh evidence that Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns HarperCollins, will not allow anything to be published which harms his commercial interests in China.

The book under threat marks the 40th anniversary of the human rights pressure group Amnesty International. The synopsis includes a chapter on Peking's deplorable human rights record to be written by the Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng.

Mr Wei, 47, is the leading voice of opposition to the regime in Peking. A former electrician at Peking zoo, he spent 16 years behind bars between his arrest in 1979 and his expulsion from China last year, after writing an article which criticised the Chinese leader, the late Deng Xiaoping.

Mr Wei, who now lives in the United States, has been scathing about the West's failure to speak out more loudly on human rights. In London in January, he told the Independent: "Because of business they want to keep a distance from me. I think it's a pity." His chapter had started to unnerve HarperCollins's senior editorial director in London, Richard Johnson, who had previously been enthusiastic about the proposal from a freelance journalist, Jonathan Power.

The Independent has learned that Mr Johnson sought guidance yesterday from HarperCollins's chairman and publisher Eddie Bell, and was instructed not to offer any advance to Mr Power until Mr Murdoch has clarified his position on the Communist regime in Peking.

Mr Power, who is based in Oxford, has already written a book marking the 30th anniversary of Amnesty International. "Nobody inside the show [HarperCollins] is in any doubt about what this whole thing is about," he said yesterday. "I'm surprised he [Mr Murdoch] even allowed Chris Patten's book to be commissioned. It was presumably a sin of omission by someone in the HarperCollins's chain of command."

If his book is also dumped, Mr Power won't be disappointed. He has been thinking of withdrawing his synopsis in solidarity with those leading HarperCollins authors who have revolted in protest against the way Mr Patten has been treated. "I only went to HarperCollins because it is a very big publishing firm which has the marketing might and distribution network to reach the 300,000 Amnesty members in America," he explained, adding: "To effectively kill a book [Chris Patten's East and West] which, by all accounts, is very good is kow-towing to the Chinese authorities in the most crude and elemental level."

If that is what he is about, Rupert Murdoch will almost certainly put a stop to plans by Mr Power to include a chapter in his book by Wei Jingsheng. As China's leading dissident, he is even more of a thorn in the flesh of the Communist regime in Peking than the former Hong Kong governor.

Stuart Proffitt, the former senior editor at HarperCollins whose departure from the company last week originally sparked the Murdoch controversy, last night declined to comment on the latest developments. "I am legally constrained from commenting on this," he said. However, he confirmed he was taking HarperCollins to an industrial tribunal and said he expected the hearing to start within the next three to six months.

Mr Wei was expelled from his homeland in December after serving 18 years in a succession of prisons and forced labour camps, where he was repeatedly tortured and confined in freezing cells. Since his exile began three months ago, he has visited Mr Patten in London. He also had a brief meeting with Derek Fatchett, the junior minister at the Foreign Office who handles Chinese affairs. He had hoped to meet with the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, but the minister "had a full appointment book".

Sky snubbed, page 4