Hong Kong Leader Emphasizes the Need for Public Libraries to Uphold Book Laws

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has reiterated the importance of public libraries ensuring compliance with local laws, as criticism mounts over the removal of materials pertaining to the Tiananmen Square crackdown from library shelves. In response to queries about the exclusion of literature and documentaries related to the June 4 incident, Chief Executive John Lee acknowledged that these books could still be accessed through private bookshops. However, he emphasized that public libraries have a crucial role in upholding the law, particularly in matters concerning copyright infringement and the dissemination of messages that might be deemed contrary to the interests of Hong Kong.

Since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong was promised a range of extensive freedoms. However, the city has experienced a noticeable erosion of individual liberties in recent years due to the implementation of a national security law imposed by China. This law has brought about significant changes in Hong Kong’s legal and political landscape, raising concerns among activists and international observers about the potential curtailment of civil rights and free expression.

Chinese authorities maintain that the national security law has been instrumental in restoring stability to Hong Kong following the widespread pro-democracy protests that took place in 2019. They argue that the law’s primary objective is to safeguard national security and protect the city from subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign interference. According to their perspective, the implementation of the law has been vital in safeguarding Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity.

However, critics argue that the national security law has been used as a tool to suppress dissent and undermine the autonomy and freedoms that were guaranteed to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework. They contend that the law’s broad and vaguely defined provisions allow authorities to crack down on a wide range of activities, including peaceful protests, free speech, and political dissent. Concerns have been raised about the potential chilling effect on Hong Kong’s civil society and the erosion of the city’s unique identity and distinct political culture.

The removal of materials related to the Tiananmen Square crackdown from public libraries has drawn particular attention and sparked debate both within Hong Kong and internationally. Previously, Hong Kong stood apart from mainland China in allowing public memorials and commemorations of the tragic events that unfolded in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Unlike mainland China, where the topic is highly sensitive and heavily censored, Hong Kong allowed open discussions and public displays of solidarity with the victims and their families.

However, over the past three years, the Hong Kong authorities have increasingly restricted activities associated with the June 4 incident. They have disallowed the annual June 4 candlelight vigil, citing COVID-related social distancing measures, and dismantled public monuments, including a prominent “goddess of democracy” statue, from three university campuses. These actions have fueled concerns about the shrinking space for freedom of expression and the suppression of historical remembrance.

According to reports from Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, more than 40 percent of video materials and books with “political themes” have been removed from public libraries since 2020. The government-backed Audit Commission, in an April report, stated that a comprehensive review of library materials has been conducted over the course of two years. This review aimed to identify and remove books that are deemed “manifestly contrary to the interests of national security” from library collections.

The national security law encompasses severe penalties, including possible life imprisonment, for acts such as subversion and collusion with foreign forces. Several countries, including the United States, have criticized the law as a repressive tool that stifles dissent and undermines Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy.

The situation in Hong Kong continues to draw global attention, with ongoing debates about the balance between national security and the preservation of civil liberties. The future trajectory of the city and its cherished values of free speech, assembly, and

In stark contrast to mainland China, where discussions surrounding the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown are considered taboo and subject to censorship, Hong Kong had previously allowed public memorials and commemorations of the event.

However, in the past three years, Hong Kong authorities have hindered the annual June 4 candlelight vigil, citing COVID-related social distancing measures. Moreover, public monuments, including a prominent “goddess of democracy” statue, have been removed from three universities.

As COVID restrictions ease this year, activists have voiced their calls for the resumption of the June 4 vigil, seeking to maintain the tradition of remembrance and solidarity.

Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper reported that over 40 percent of video materials and books centered around “political themes” have been eradicated from public libraries since 2020.

In an April report, the government-backed Audit Commission disclosed that a comprehensive two-year review of library materials is nearing completion. The objective of this review has been to identify and eliminate “library books which are manifestly contrary to the interests of national security.”

The national security law, which carries severe penalties including life imprisonment for acts of subversion and collusion with foreign forces, has faced criticism from various countries, including the United States. Critics argue that it serves as a repressive tool, impinging upon freedom of expression and human rights.

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