Hong Kong's national security police arrested two men for possessing children's books that the administration deemed seditious.
The men, aged 38 and 50, were arrested following raids at their homes in Kowloon and Hong Kong island. The police said they recovered “seditious publications” that "could incite hatred or contempt” against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments and the judiciary.
Several copies of the illustrated children's books were seized, the police said.
The men were arrested on 13 March and later released on bail but have been asked to report to the police the next month, the local newspaper Mingpao reported.
The publications were reportedly sent from the UK to Hong Kong. The books portrayed Hongkongers during the 2019 democracy protest as sheep trying to defend their village from wolves - a reference to the Chinese authorities.
Human Rights Watch called the arrests "shameful". "Hong Kong prosecutors have increasingly used the crime of 'sedition' – an archaic, overly broad crime – to clamp down on peaceful dissent," the group said.
The books were deemed "seditious" by a court during a trial when five speech therapists were handed 19 months of prison sentences.
Held in July 2021 for publishing three books featuring cartoons of sheep fighting against wolves, defendants Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong pleaded not guilty.
While handing down the sentence in September last year, district court judge Kwok Wai Kin said the therapists had to be punished “not because of the publication or the words but because of their harm or the risk of harm to the minds of children”, saying the works sowed seeds of “instability”.
“What the defendants have done to the children aged four and above was in fact a brain-washing exercise with a view to guiding the very young children to accept their views and values,” the judge said.
In one of the books, wolves want to take over a village and eat the sheep, prompting the sheep to fight back against them.
They take action like going on strike and escaping on boat, in an apparent reference to 12 democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong by speedboat in 2020, before being captured by the Chinese coastguard.
Critics have accused the Communist government of throttling dissent with the help of the national security law, which makes arresting protesters unchallenging.
Under the law implemented in 2020 following the pro-democracy protests, alleged crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.