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Police have made a total of five arrests so far, with more likely to follow, with one officer claiming the books “poison children’s minds”. National security police in Hong Kong swooped on members of a speech therapists’ union over the books, which they claim are intended to demonstrate support for the 2019 protest movement while whipping up “hatred” for the ruling Chinese authorities.
In total three men and two women, aged between 25 and 28, have been detained, Radio Free Asia has said.
The books in question are entitled “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” “The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village” and “The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village”.
During the course of the raid, police seized roughly 550 children’s books, leaflets, computers and mobile phones, as well as arresting the chairperson, deputy chairperson, secretary and treasurer and freezing HK$160,000 in assets.
Senior superintendent Steve Li with the offending children’s books
The books are a series based on a village inhabited by sheep
Senior Superintendent Steve Li claimed the sheep in question represented demonstrators who fought against riot police two years ago prior to the introduction of tough new security laws in the former British colony by mainland China.
Li claimed the books depicted the police as wolves while “beautifying bad behaviour” and “poisoning” the impressionable minds of children.
One book portrays the wolves as dirty and the sheep clean, while another shows the sheep fighting back with their horns, Li points claims.
He also confirmed police anticipate making further arrests.
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China’s President Xi Jinping
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) official Wong Nai-yun told RFA the situation underscored Beijing’s determination to target all forms of free speech.
He explained: “If even metaphors are out of bounds now, then nobody will be able to read George Orwell’s classic political allegory Animal Farm.
“But the national security police keep moving the red lines, so there is less and less room for public expression by citizens.
“Under such circumstances, we never know exactly where the red lines will be.
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Police fire tear gas at protesters in Hong Kong in 2019
Mass protests in Hong Kong in 2019
“All we can do is keep on doing what we think is right.”
A spokeswoman for the speech therapists’ union who gave only the nickname Melody admitted the union had been motivated by a desire to counter what she called Chinese Communist Party “propaganda” currently being taught in schools.
She added: “We didn’t know how long this cover-up of the truth about the anti-extradition movement would go on for, and so we wanted to put something on record for this age group.
“That way they would be able to understand what happened; children have a right to know these things.
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“They are a part of society too, and they will be in charge of it in future.”
A statement issued by the CTU added: “Today, a children’s book is defined as seditious.
“Tomorrow, any metaphors could be read as seditious words, and everyone in society is on edge.
“This also explains why many creators are self-censoring, pulling their works from shelves.
“The case again shows how the law is just being used by the authorities to spread fear.”
Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying
The sheep metaphor is likely to date back to remarks by then-Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying in 2015.
In his New Year’s message on the first day of the Year of the Goat, also translated as the Year of the Ram, or Sheep, Leung said: “Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong.
“Our society was rife with differences and conflicts.
“In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep’s character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong’s future.”
Sheep were “widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups”, Leung added.