Beijing’s new national security law came into effect on Tuesday and marks the most radical change in the management of the semi-autonomous city since it was returned to China by Britain in 1997.
Authoritarian leaders in China say the powers will restore stability after a year of pro-democracy protests, do not hinder freedoms, and target only “a very small minority”.
But this has already raised fears of a city used to speaking openly, the police arresting people for possession of slogans pushing for independence or greater autonomy and companies jostling to suppress the demonstrations.
Wong said he thought the removal of the books was triggered by the security law.“White terror continues to spread, the national security law is basically a tool to incriminate the speech,” he wrote on Facebook, using a phrase that refers to political persecution.
Research on the public library website has shown that at least three titles by Wong, Chan and local scholar Chin Wan are no longer available for loan at dozens of retail outlets across the city.
An Agence France-Presse journalist could not find the titles in a public library in the Wong Tai Sin district on Saturday afternoon.
The city’s cultural services department, which operates libraries, said the books had been removed after it was determined whether they violated national security law.
“During the review, the books will not be available for borrowing and reference,” he said.
The law targets acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
China says it will have jurisdiction in some cases and has allowed its security apparatus to openly settle in Hong Kong for the first time, ending the legal firewall in between.
Rights groups and legal analysts say the broad language of the law – which was kept secret until promulgation – prohibits certain political opinions, even if they are expressed peacefully.
Any promotion of independence or greater autonomy seems prohibited by law. Another provision, formulated in vague terms, prohibits hatred towards the Chinese or Hong Kong government.
On the Chinese mainland, similar national security laws are commonly used to crush dissent.
The new law on the security and suppression of books has raised the question of whether academic freedom still exists.
Hong Kong has some of the best universities in Asia and a campus culture where subjects that would be taboo on the mainland are still discussed and written.
But Beijing has made it clear that education in the city will become more “patriotic,” especially after a year of huge, often violent, and largely youth-led pro-democracy protests.