Hong Kong Authorities Should Drop Sedition Charges Against Booksellers, PEN America Says
Arrests and Prosecution Are Part of a Disturbing Pattern of Restrictions on Free Expression
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York/London)— PEN America and PEN International call on Hong Kong authorities to drop the sedition charges against booksellers Alan Keung Ka-wai (姜嘉偉), Cannis Chan Sheung-yan (陳尚恩), Alex Lee Lung-yin (李龍現). According to local media, the three were charged with “conspiracy to do an act or acts with seditious intent” this past January 19 and 26 for producing and selling a book about the 2019 protests.
Hong Kong police initially detained six individuals on January 17 at a Lunar New Year Fair in Mong Kok and confiscated 43 books. The three others were freed without charge. Keung, Chan, and Lee have been denied bail and a hearing is set for March 17 at West Kowloon Court. If convicted, they face up to two years in prison for a first time sedition offense or three years if it is a subsequent offense.
“Producing and selling a book about Hong Kong’s 2019 protest movement is not a crime. Hong Kong authorities are attempting to rewrite the history of the protests by arresting and suppressing individuals that present narratives counter to the government’s. Authorities should immediately drop the sedition charges and release from custody these three booksellers. Their arrest and ongoing prosecution is part of a disturbing pattern of restrictions on free expression rights that emerged following Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law. From children’s books to longer form narratives, authorities have repeatedly claimed publications about the 2019 protests are “seditious,” said Angeli Datt, PEN America’s China research and advocacy lead.
“The increasing use of sedition charges to silence critical expression has a profound chilling effect across the territory and is illustrative of the Hong Kong government’s disregard of its international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression,” said Ross Holder, Head of Asia/ Pacific Region at PEN International
Following the Chinese government’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) on Hong Kong on June 30, 2020, local authorities have increasingly targeted media, publishers, and individuals exercising their right to free expression and free press with NSL criminal charges of subversion, secession, and colluding with foreign forces. The re-introduction of colonial-era sedition charges in 2020, which had not been used since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China, has marked a new tactic for prosecutors to target free expression. Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance defines seditious acts as bringing into “hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” with the Hong Kong or Chinese governments and has been increasingly leveled against critical speech, reporting, and publications. NSL rules ending the presumption of bail have been introduced in sedition trials on the grounds that they involve national security.
Staff of the now-closed Apple Daily newspaper and digital outlet Stand News have been charged with “sedition” for publishing critical articles, in addition to other crimes. In September 2022, five speech therapists were convicted of sedition and imprisoned for 19 months for producing children’s books about the 2019 protests which they said was “history from the people’s perspective.” The following month, a radio host was sentenced to 32 months in prison for sedition and money laundering charges for the content of his radio shows and calls for donations for protesters.
Even before the National Security Law, Hong Kong booksellers involved with producing books critical of the government were targeted by authorities. In 2015, five booksellers affiliated with a Hong Kong bookstore disappeared, only to emerge later in mainland Chinese custody–a case known as the “Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances.” Publisher and poet Gui Minhai, one of the Causeway Bay 5, is still serving a ten-year sentence on trumped-up charges.
In November 2022, United Nations human rights experts called for the repeal of the NSL and sedition provisions from the Crimes Ordinance.
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057