HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested five trade union members over children’s books they described as seditious, and a court denied bail for four editors and journalists held on charges of endangering national security, as part of a widening crackdown on dissent in the city.
The five who were arrested are members of the General Association of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, according to local media reports.
The association published three children’s books that Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent of the national security department, said have seditious intent.
The books feature stories that revolve around a village of sheep that has to deal with wolves from a different village. The sheep take action like going on strike or escaping by boat, according to the synopses published on the association’s website.
Li said that the stories referenced the 12 Hong Kong activists who were arrested at sea while trying to flee the city, after most of them were charged in connection with massive anti-government protests in 2019. There was also a story about wolves who are “cruel and try to occupy the area” where the sheep live, and try to kill them, Li said.
“Of course, when we prosecute the case, we are not the one to prove that these materials have actually caused the inciting to others,” said Li.
“And the children, maybe because of the information inside … can turn their mind and develop a moral standard against the society.”
The 2019 rallies calling for more civil rights and universal suffrage shook Hong Kong for months, often descending into violence between police and protesters. Beijing responded last year with a sweeping national security law that critics say restricts freedoms promised to the former British colony that are not found on mainland China.
The publishing of such books “brings hatred against the government and administration of justice, and (incites) violence to others,” Li said. He added that the books targeted children between the ages of 4 and 7.
Police said that also froze 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,600) in assets linked to the union.
On Thursday, a Hong Kong court denied bail to four top editors and journalists from the now-defunct Apple Daily pro-democracy newspaper. They were arrested Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign powers to endanger national security.
So far, eight former employees have been arrested. Apply Daily ceased operations in June after $2.3 million in assets were frozen and police raided the newspaper’s offices, confiscating hard drives and laptops.
The national security law criminalizes secessionism, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion in the city’s affairs. Since it was implemented, more than 100 pro-democracy supporters have been arrested and many others have fled abroad.