In the wake of the controversial national security law, Hong Kong libraries have taken out books by pro-democracy figures out of circulation for conducting a review of whether the books run afoul of the new security law.
At least nine books written by localist or democracy advocates have become unavailable or marked as “under review” according to media reports.
The sweeping legislation, which came into force on June 30 punishes crimes related to secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with punishments of up to life in prison.
Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes termed the move “alarming” and said authorities needed to justify restricting the public’s right to seek information.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the city’s public libraries, confirmed it was scrutinizing some books for compliance with the new law, without naming them.
The Chinese-language books were written by activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, localist Horace Chin Wan-kan and Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan.
“The national security law … imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city,” activist Joshua Wong said in a tweet, adding his titles “are now prone to book censorship.”
A search of the nine titles on the library website on Saturday found all the titles marked “under review”.
“A new law has come into effect … so the Hong Kong authorities are reviewing these books to see if they stick to the new law or not, and under this situation, the books cannot be checked out for readers now,” an employee at the City Hall Public Library said.
“After our review, then we will update the situation of the books to see if you can borrow it or not,” the employee added.
The national-security legislation has been criticized by pro-democracy activists, lawyers and foreign governments who fear it would be used to stifle dissent and undermine freedoms the former British colony was promised when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The move came after months of social upheaval triggered by opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill but that morphed into wider demands, including universal suffrage.
Beijing has dismissed criticism of the law, saying it is necessary to stop the type of mass pro-democracy protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019.