Over the weekend, books written by pro-democracy activists and advocates were pulled from Hong Kong libraries to be reviewed under the new national security law, a government department said on Sunday. At least nine titles are believed to have been removed from circulation.
According to an employee of the Hong Kong City Hall Public Library, “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. After our review, then we will update the situation of the books to see if you can borrow it or not.”
The new legislation, which states that crimes of secession and subversion of state power could be punishable by between 3-10 years in prison or a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, has garnered harsh criticism from many for encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
However, Hong Kong and Beijing government officials in support of the bill have maintained that the bill would only target a “small minority” of criminals. They also insist that the freedom of speech and assembly granted by the one country, two systems principle would be preserved.
However, the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association called the sudden move to remove the books “alarming,” saying that “It clearly constitutes a restriction on the right to seek information.”
He added, “Because it is a restriction, the censor needs to explain why the books were removed,” pointing to the lack of explanation or justification from the government.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department had also confirmed that several books were removed for scrutiny to determine whether they violated the stipulations of the National Security Law. However, they did not provide details about which specific titles were removed and on what basis.
Civic Party Leader Tanya Chan, as well as the author of one of the books currently being reviewed, stated that the move undermined Hong Kong’s Basic Law (the island’s mini-constitution), under which freedom of expression is protected.
“[The national security law] does not just affect a small number of people,” said Chan. “It affects the public as the way they can access these books is being taken away.”
Despite this, pro-Beijing officials have defended the decision, saying that the review of these books did not infringe on the Hong Kong people’s rights to information, as the books were not officially banned and can still be accessed from other sources.
Former chairman of the Bar Association and member of the Executive Council cabinet Ronny Tong Ka-wah stated, “As a government establishment, it will be wrong and contrary to the purpose of the law to encourage people to read publications, which might incite people to commit an offence under the law.”
The removal of these books, however, was not the only recent move to spark fear among locals on the island.
Over the weekend, the Hong Kong police force also confirmed that they collected DNA samples from the 10 people arrested on July 1 for violating the national security law. Several of the individuals were arrested after police found them to be in possession of banners or flags that bore pro-independence slogans.
A spokesperson from the police force said that they were detained for inciting the commission of subversion and at least one was charged with acts of terrorism. If determined guilty, the individuals could potentially be imprisoned for up to 10 years.
Several lawyers questioned the need for these practices, which is usually only used in investigations related to rape, drug possession or serious assault.
“We are shocked to learn that the police handled the cases like this because our clients only carried or [were] found to have some promotional materials,” said lawyer Janet Pang Ho-yan, who is assisting three of the 10 detainees.
“According to news reports, they [had] flags, stickers or leaflets … What is the DNA sample collection for? What do they want to prove? They already found the items … They collected personal data in a disproportionate manner.”
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu responded to the concerns, saying that the officers’ actions were lawful and justified. According to the law, senior officers can collect DNA samples from detainees if there is reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a serious offense and the evidence will be instrumental to determine guilt.
“When police officers are investigating a criminal case and they think collecting some samples will be helpful for investigating the cases, as well as will provide evidence to prove some crimes, then they can exercise such power,” said Lee after a radio interview on Saturday.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung also stated the possibility that officers need to expand their DNA database as police had failed to make progress in other investigations.
“With the national security law, the police’s scope of investigation will be broadened … it’s understandable their investigation will be more detailed. We can’t stop them. But I hope they won’t abuse the mechanism,” he said.
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