Public libraries in Hong Kong have removed several books by pro-democracy authors from shelves, less than a week after China passed a controversial national security law – raising concerns that the new law will dampen political dissent and dialogue in the city.
The new law criminalizes “acts of secession,” undermining the authority of the central government, “terrorism,” or “collusion with foreign forces,” all of which could be punishable with life in prison.
The books removed from libraries were listed as “under review” on the library catalogue, and include two works by activist Joshua Wong, 2013’s “I Am Not A Hero,” and 2015’s “I Am Not a Child: Before and After Turning 18 Years Old,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The 2012 book, “My Journeys for Food and Justice,” by legislator Tanya Chan, who is a founding member of the pro-democracy Civic Party, was also removed.
Wong, who is currently awaiting trial after charges from 2019’s protests, said on Twitter that the national security law “imposes a mainland-style censorship regime” on Hong Kong and is “one step away from actual book banning.”
“More than just punitive measures, the national security law also imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city,” Wong tweeted. “Although my books are published years before Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement, they are now prone to book censorship.”
A government spokeswoman said in a statement that the library’s books must comply with the laws of Hong Kong.
“While legal advice will be sought in the process of the review, the books will not be available for borrowing and reference in libraries,” she said.
The removal of the books comes amid concerns that the new law will censor political ideas in publishing, media, and the Internet, the Journal reported. The Hong Kong government has suggested that the popular protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” may defy the new law.
Shop owners in Hong Kong have been removing signs and pro-democracy paraphernalia from their displays, for fear of being prosecuted under the new legislation, according to the New York Times.
Chinese officials have said the law is not meant to silence free speech in Hong Kong, and would only affect a few “troublemakers.”
But critics denounced the new law, saying it endangers Hong Kong’s judicial independence and “one country, two systems” style of government – which allows the area certain democratic freedoms not permitted in mainland China.
“It is clear that the law will have a severe impact on freedom of expression, if not personal security, on the people of Hong Kong,” Professor Johannes Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong, told the BBC.
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