Each day seems to bring a new loss of freedoms in Hong Kong. Last week the authorities prosecuted a Hong Kong man who had received a shipment of 18 “seditious” books from the United Kingdom.
The authorities accused Kurt Leung Kui-ming of intending to “incite violence” and promote “feelings of ill-will and enmity” in the city. It was the first time the government has invoked the offense of “importing seditious publications” since the Chinese government imposed the draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong in June 2020. Leung faces up to two years in prison.
The books apparently putting Hong Kong’s authorities on edge were a series of children’s books entitled Sheep Village, about a flock of sheep peacefully resisting a tyrannical wolf pack by going on strikes, voting, and printing newspapers. The series was first published by the now-defunct General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, a pro-democracy labor union. In September 2022, a Hong Kong court sentenced five union members to 19 months in prison for publishing these books.
This is just the latest step in the Hong Kong authorities’ campaign to censor written material. In recent months, Hong Kong public libraries have removed hundreds of books they deem “politically sensitive,” from satirical comics and political essays to travelogues and even romance novels by pro-democracy authors. At least 146 titles on the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre have been removed, with only three English-language books on the massacre remaining, according to media reports. In July, library authorities set up informant channels for the public to report books that may “violate Hong Kong law or threaten national security.”
But like the stories told in Sheep Village, a number of Hong Kong people are showing determination to defend their freedoms. Some are taking the initiative to digitally preserve the censored books; others are setting up a new publishing house in Taiwan to publish Hong Kong titles.
Everyone is entitled to the right to freedom of expression. Hong Kong authorities should drop all charges against Leung Kui-ming and others held for exercising their basic rights.