Police in Hong Kong have raided a lunar new year shopping fair and arrested six people for selling a “seditious” book related to the 2019 anti-government protests in a move critics say has spread “terror” just days before the celebrations.
National security officers accused three men and three women, aged between 18 and 62, of producing and publishing “a seditious book about a series of riots that occurred in Hong Kong from June 2019 to February 2020”, and selling it in a lunar new year stall in a shopping centre in Mong Kok, a bustling shopping district.
Police said they were “members of an anti-government organisation” and held them in custody on suspicion of engaging in “acts with seditious intention”. Alan Keung, the founder of the independent news outlet Free HK Media, was among those arrested, local media reported.
Police said they seized 43 copies of the book and other “seditious” items in a raid on the stall, homes and a printing shop on Tuesday evening. The police said the book advocated “Hong Kong independence” and “incited others to overthrow the central (Chinese) and Hong Kong governments”.
The 400-page volume of photographs and text chronicles the 2019 protests and its cover was a picture of a police standoff with protesters in which a flag emblazoned with the now banned slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” was visible. The group, which operated the online Shame on You Grocery Store, was also accused of selling items that “glorified violence” and carried anti-government motifs, the newspaper Ming Pao reported.
The lunar new year market, which opened in December and was expected to operate throughout the holiday until late January, was organised by two small pro-democracy groups, Dare Media and Be Water Alliance.
Before the national security law was implemented in June 2020, pro-democracy politicians and civil groups ran stalls in popular public new year markets and sold political satire-themed souvenirs and calligraphy to raise funds. But dozens of key members of the pro-democracy groups have since been arrested or fled abroad and scores of civil groups disbanded under the national security law.
Since the enactment of the national security law in June 2020, the government has increasingly used colonial-era sedition charges to stamp out dissent. In September, five Hong Kong speech therapists were each jailed for 19 months for publishing children’s comic books about sheep trying to defend their village from wolves. Prosecutors said the sheep and wolves, analogies for Hongkongers and mainland Chinese, were intended to incite hatred.
Prof Chung Kim-wah, a social scientist formerly with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University now based overseas, said there is no clear line as to what constitutes sedition and the authorities arbitrarily apply the law in the name of national security. “Be it the airing of opinions in speech, publications, press articles or school textbooks, so long as one doesn’t agree with the government, the authorities can prosecute those they see as a thorn in their thighs,” he said.
“This is a continuation of the political crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and expression and another intimidation of civil society … This is ‘white terror’ – it will contribute towards mistrust of the government and hostility in society.”