Two men have been arrested in Hong Kong for the possession of picture books which authorities say are “seditious”.
They are believed to be the first arrested for merely owning the books – after the publishers were jailed last year.
Authorities interpreted the books – about sheep trying to hold back wolves from their village – as referring to Hong Kongers and China’s government.
The arrests are another deterioration of Hong Konger’s rights, critics say.
Human Rights Watch described the arrests as “shameful”, and said the territory was using its colonial-era sedition law to clamp down on dissent.
Hong Kong media reported police arrested the men, aged 38 and 50, at their apartments on 13 March. They raided their homes in Kowloon and Hong Kong island and seized multiple copies of the books, which are part of a series titled Yangcun.
Both men have been released on bail but must report to the police next month, authorities said.
Officials also confirmed the books were the same that had been the subject of a high-profile trial last year – where a court had to determine if the Yangcun books advocated for rebellion against the state
The court ruled the picture books had “seditious intention” and jailed five speech therapists to 19 months in prison for publishing the books.
The group, aged between 25 and 28, had produced cartoon e-books that some interpreted as trying to explain Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to children.
In one of the three books, a village of sheep fight back against a group of wolves who are trying to take over their settlement.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. Under its “one country, two systems” principle, residents are supposed to enjoy certain freedoms unavailable on the mainland.
But these rights have been eroded since Beijing in 2020 imposed a national security law in response to the months-long Hong Kong protests against Beijing’s control in 2019.
Beijing said the law was needed to bring stability to the city – but critics said it was designed to squash dissent, and weaken Hong Kong’s autonomy.
In January, police arrested a 24-year-old student for sedition after he posted a download link of the Yangcun series on Facebook – accompanied by alleged inflammatory statements, local outlet Mingpao reported.
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