Hong Kong Arrests Five Over Kids’ Books With Pro-Beijing Wolves

Children’s books likening Hong Kong democracy activists to sheep pursued by wolves were at the center of the city’s latest national security sweep, with five people arrested on suspicion of publishing seditious material.

Members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists were arrested Thursday over three books the group published with political themes featuring conflicts between cartoon sheep and wolves, Li Kwai-wah, the senior police for national security, told reporters. The suspects -- two men and three women in their 20s -- were detained before their union held Saturday reading sessions for children, Li said.

“The arrested persons are suspected of conspiring to publish, distribute, display or reproduce publications from the middle of last year to this year, with the intention of causing hatred, incitement to violence and the abuse of law by the public, especially young children, against the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong judiciary,” police said in an earlier statement.

The arrests come as authorities increasingly use laws, including a national security law enacted last year and sedition legislation imposed during British rule, to jail members of the opposition. The police bureau created by the security law has used it to arrest at least 132 people, including activists, lawyers, journalists and academics. It has also arrested at least nine other people on allegations of seditious speech or publications.

While Hong Kong officials have said the security law targets only an “extremely small minority,” they have begun to use it to remove public library books and censor films. In June, the Hong Kong police raided the newsroom of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and arrested top editors on suspicion that they violated colluded with foreign forces to sanction China. The paper, whose assets were frozen by authorities, later shut down.

Police also froze assets totaling HK$160,000 ($20,600) held by the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. The arrests were first reported by local media including Oriental Daily newspaper and broadcaster Cable TV.

The speech therapists union couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

One book published by the union, “Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village,” shows cartoon animals fleeing a group of wolves before being captured at sea and sent to prison. The scenario mirrors the case of Hong Kong activists caught by the Chinese coast guard while attempting to flee to Taiwan. One of the last pages of the book features the real names of the dozen activists against sheep profile pictures.

In another book, a medical workers’ union that went on a high-profile strike early in the pandemic to pressure the government to shut the border with mainland China are also shown as sheep. Winnie Yu, the union’s leader, was one of 47 prominent activists accused of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over a primary election last year that authorities described as a plot to paralyze the government. She remains in jail ahead of her trial, since the security law greatly restricts the right to bail.

Li, the police official, told reporters that Thursday’s arrests resulted from concern that the books were being used to corrupt the morals of young children. “I have to reassure that, if no one was doing this thing on the streets or in this society, we will not to be taking any stringent actions,” Li said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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