Hong Kong’s national security police arrested two men for possessing children’s books termed seditious by local authorities. The two men, aged 38 and 50, were arrested and detained after police and customs officers searched their homes and offices. They found copies of “seditious publications” that allegedly “incited hatred or contempt” against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments and the judiciary, The Guardian reported local media as citing a police press release.
The incident is the latest of a string of moves that depict the state of civil freedoms in the city.
Police alleged that the books were “seditious publications that could incite others into using violence and disobeying the law”, as per the Guardian’s report. They were related to a concluded sedition trial.
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The police press release said, “the possession of seditious publications is a serious crime” which can result in a year of imprisonment in initial convictions and two years in subsequent convictions.
The report cited Chinese-language Mingpao newspaper as stating that the publications were sent from Britain to Hong Kong. There were several copies of illustrated children’s books in a series that portrayed people in Hong Kong during the 2019 protests as sheep trying to defend their village from wolves, an apparent reference to the mainland Chinese regime.
The duo has been released on bail but has been asked to report to the police next month, Mingpao quoted police as saying on Wednesday.
As per the report, the books were ruled as seditious by a court in a high-profile trial in 2022. In this trial, five speech therapists were jailed for 19 months for “conspiring to publish, distribute and display three books with seditious intent”.
At that time, the Police had warned parents to destroy the books because they were “too radical and instilled in children the ideas to confront and oppose the government”.
A colonial-era sedition offence was used by authorities for the convictions. They have also deployed the Beijing-imposed national security law to suppress dissent.
The sedition law outlaws incitement to violence, disaffection, and other offences against the administration, as per the Guardian.
Meanwhile, the national security law imposed by China to suppress anti-government protests lays out penalties with severity of life imprisonment for crimes including secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.
The banned publication includes a comic book titled ‘The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village’ apparently refers to a failed attempt by 12 protesters to flee Hong Kong in 2020. They were caught and faced trial in China for illegally crossing the border.
In recent arrests, National security police arrested a 23-year-old woman last Wednesday for allegedly publishing online messages inciting calls for Hong Kong independence. A veteran labour rights activist named Elizabeth Tang was arrested last Thursday, on the accusation of “colluding with foreign forces” after returning from Britain to visit her husband, Lee Cheuk-yan, an opposition lawmaker, in prison.