Public libraries in Hong Kong have removed books and documentaries relating to the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong protest movements, and other politically sensitive subjects ahead of the 34th anniversary of the 1989 killings.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday that “public libraries needed to ensure books don’t violate local laws” and “spread any kind of messages that are not in the interests of Hong Kong.”
In recent years, the former British colony has seen a growing authoritarian clampdown on pro-democracy movements as well as the introduction of national security laws in 2020. Political freedoms have been significantly curtailed because of this.
Hong Kong’s national security laws—passed June 30, 2020—criminalizes the secession of Hong Kong, subversion against the Chinese government, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces. According to Amnesty International, Chinese authorities forced it into law just weeks after first being announced, bypassing Hong Kong’s local legislature. The text was also kept secret from the public and allegedly Hong Kong’s government till after it was enacted.
Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported that about 40% of politically themed books, magazines, videos, and documentaries available at the end of 2020 are now gone.
“Books with content suspected of breaching the national security law or other local laws are removed immediately for a review,” a spokesperson for the Leisure and Cultural Services department—which operates Hong Kong’s libraries—told the South China Morning Post.
Lee said that books on the Tiananmen Square massacre are still available for purchase at private bookshops. Activists and residents, however, dispute that claim, noting that several bookshops have removed sensitive books from their shops for fear of violating the national security law. School libraries have already removed politically sensitive books following the introduction of the national security laws.
Censorship under the guise of upholding the national security laws has also targeted media outlets, cartoons, films, documentaries, and art exhibitions, The Guardian reported.
Book bans in the U.S. have reached an all-time high this year alone, with more than 4,000 books being banned since the nonprofit free speech organization PEN America began keeping track in July 2021. Targeted books usually surround themes of gender and sexuality, race, and history. Those upholding the law have broadly labeled the books “explicit” and “harmful” in an attempt to pull more books from school and public library bookshelves.
The Tiananmen Square protests were a series of student-led demonstrations in 1989 calling for democracy, free speech, and freedom of the press in China. The death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader who had worked to introduce democratic reform in China, in April 1989 served as a catalyst for the protests. In the weeks following Yaobang’s death, tens of thousands of pro-democracy supporters joined the students in Tiananmen Square. The protests were brought to a halt by the Chinese government on June 4, 1989, in a deadly crackdown known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Thousands were killed, and just as many were arrested.
For more content on book bans in the U.S., read here.