Two men have been arrested in Hong Kong for possessing a picture book that authorities have described as “sedition.”
They are believed to be the first to be arrested solely for possessing the books after the publisher was jailed last year.
Authorities interpreted the book – about sheep trying to chase away wolves from their village – as a reference to Hong Kong and the Chinese government.
Critics say the arrests further exacerbate Hong Kong’s rights.
Human Rights Watch described the arrests as “shameful” and said the region used colonial-era sedition laws to crack down on dissidents.
Hong Kong media reported that police arrested the men, aged 38 and 50, from their home on March 13. They ransacked their homes in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and confiscated multiple copies of the book that was part of a series titled Yangcun.
Both have been released on bail but are expected to report to the police next month, authorities said.
The officials also confirmed that the books were the same ones that were the subject of a high-level trial last year – in which a court had to determine whether Yangcun’s books advocated rebellion against the state.
The court ruled that the picture books had “seditious intent” and sentenced five speech therapists to 19 months in prison for publishing the books.
The group, aged between 25 and 28, have produced an e-book featuring cartoons that some have interpreted as an attempt to explain Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to children.
In one of the three books, a village of sheep fights against a pack of wolves trying to take over their town.
Hong Kong is a particular administrative region of China. According to the “one country, two systems” principle, residents should enjoy certain freedoms that do not exist on the continent.
But those rights have been undermined since Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020 in response to months of protests in Hong Kong against Beijing’s control in 2019.
Beijing says the law is necessary to ensure the city’s stability, but critics say it is designed to quell dissent and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.
In January, police arrested a 24-year-old student on sedition charges after he posted a link to download the Yangcun series on Facebook – accompanied by allegedly inflammatory remarks, local newspaper Mingpao reported.