Hong Kong's national security police arrest five people from a trade union for sedition due to books they produced for children, the latest arrests made amid a crackdown on dissent in the city.

Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of Police National Security Department, poses with evidence including three children's books on stories that revolve around a village of sheep which has to deal with wolves from a different village, before a press conference in Hong Kong on July 22, 2021.
Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of Police National Security Department, poses with evidence including three children's books on stories that revolve around a village of sheep which has to deal with wolves from a different village, before a press conference in Hong Kong on July 22, 2021. (AP)

Hong Kong police have arrested five people on sedition charges over children's books they had published.

Officials said that characters of wolves and sheep in the books were aimed at inciting hatred towards the city's government amongst youngsters.

Thursday's arrests were the latest involving suspected critics of Hong Kong's government that have raised fears about the shrinking space for dissent since China imposed a national security law in June 2020 to put an end to Beijing-critical protests in the semi-autonomous city.

Police said one book, "Defenders of the Sheep Village", was connected to the protests. In the story, wolves want to occupy the village and eat the sheep, who in turn use their horns to fight back.

Those arrested were members of a speech therapists' union who produced books for children. Police said the five were two men and three women aged between 25 and 28. They did not identify them by name.

Footage from broadcaster TVB showed police taking one of those detained back to the union's office, before emerging with boxes of evidence.

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Police officers leave a building with a hooded suspect, centre, after searching evidence in Hong Kong on July 22, 2021.
Police officers leave a building with a hooded suspect, centre, after searching evidence in Hong Kong on July 22, 2021. (AP)

Sheeps and wolves

The association had published three children's books on stories that revolve around a village of sheep which has to deal with wolves from a different village.

In the books, the sheep take actions like go on strike, or escape by boat, according to the synopses published on the association's website.

The five from the union were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious material under a colonial-era law rarely used before the anti-government protests began in the former British colony.

Senior police superintendent Steve Li told a media briefing that police were concerned by the books because of the information inside for children which "turns their mind and develop a moral standard to be against society".

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They highlighted two other books produced by the union in addition to "Defenders of the Sheep Village".

The second told the story of 12 sheep taken by wolves to the beasts' village where they would be cooked, potentially alluding to the 12 Hong Kong people captured by China in August last year at sea as they tried to flee the city by boat. 

Li said the story was not factual and incited hatred against authorities.

The third book tells the story of wolves sneaking through a hole into the sheep village and shows the wolves as dirty and the sheep as clean. 

This aimed to create hatred against the government, Li said.

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A police officer stands in front of a screen during a news conference after five people were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish
A police officer stands in front of a screen during a news conference after five people were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish "seditious material" with the intent of inciting public hatred towards the government among children, in Hong Kong, China on July 22, 2021. (Reuters)

Sedition law

First convictions under the sedition law can carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison, police said. 

Police also said they froze $20,600 (160,000 Hong Kong dollars) in assets linked to the union.

The General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists could not be reached for comment.

Authorities have denied any erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong — which returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula aimed at preserving its freedoms and role as a financial hub — but say China's national security is a red line.

Security officials have said law enforcement action is based on evidence and has nothing to do with an individual's political stance, background or profession.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies