Pro-democracy activists' books unavailable in Hong Kong libraries in the wake of a new security law

The removal is raising fears Beijing could use the controversial law to crack down on free speech in Hong Kong.

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By Yuliya Talmazan

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures say some of their books have become unavailable in the city’s public libraries in the wake of a new national security law that has already resulted in Beijing cracking down in the semi-autonomous territory.

A search of the online catalog of Hong Kong Public Libraries on Monday for books authored by pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, the face of the so-called Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong in 2014, didn’t turn up any results, in either English or Mandarin.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Wong raised concerns about his books disappearing from the public libraries, saying: “Even (though) they banned my book in the public library, they can't ignore and silence the voice of Hong Kong people.”

He tweeted Saturday that the new security law "imposes a mainland-style censorship regime" upon Hong Kong, adding: "Although my books are published years before Hong Kong's anti-extradition movement, they are now prone to book censorship."

Other titles authored by other high-profile pro-democracy figures, such as lawmaker Tanya Chan and Horace Chin Wan-kan, who advocates localism, did not show up in search results from the public library's database.

NBC News could not independently verify if their works were previously available in Hong Kong's public libraries.

Pro-democracy legislator Tanya Chan told NBC News Monday she was puzzled about why her book was removed, saying it demonstrates that the new law was not just affecting a minority of people as the government claims, but the general majority of residents.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the law is targeted at “troublemakers” and will not affect the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kongers.

“This is definitely just the start to trigger the chain effect of self-censorship," Chan said.

Protesters against the new national security law march and gesture with five fingers, signifying the "Five demands - not one less" on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 1. Vincent Yu / AP

In a statement to NBC News late on Monday, Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, responsible for public libraries, said the libraries must ensure their collections are in compliance with the stipulations of the new security law and review whether certain books violate it.

“While legal advice will be sought in the process of the review, the books will not be available for borrowing and reference in libraries,” the department’s statement said.

The removal of the books is raising fears China could use the new security law to crack down on free speech in Hong Kong.

The sweeping legislation, which came into force last week, punishes crimes related to secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

Pro-democracy activists and international observers have criticized the law, saying it gives new powers to Beijing to stifle any dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.

Hong Kong authorities have already made arrests under the new security law, taking at least 10 people into custody Wednesday, during protests that took place a day after the new legislation came into effect — the 23rd anniversary of the territory's handover from the United Kingdom to China.

The former British colony was promised a high-degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” agreement when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

It was rocked by monthslong pro-democracy protests last year over a controversial extradition bill which was later abandoned.