Hong Kong government auditors have called on the department managing the city’s public libraries to “step up efforts” to make sure library materials do not threaten national security.

Hong kong public library
A public library in Hong Kong. File photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Audit Commission said there was a “[n]eed to step up efforts in examining library materials for safeguarding national security and talking follow-up actions.”

According to the report, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) launched a preliminary review of library materials for “national security risk considerations” in 2021. “Since then, LCSD has been conducting examination of the materials identified in the preliminary review for taking necessary follow-up actions,” the report read.

Citing LCSD, the commission said that Hong Kong Public Libraries had already completed the review of library books, with those deemed “manifestly contrary” to national security removed.

Follow-up work was still in progress as of February, it added.

National security
A national security billboard. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

Dozens of civil society groups have disbanded in the wake of the law, and media outlets have also shut down following arrests and raids. The authorities, however, maintain that the legislation has restored stability and prosperity to the city.

Last year, the government refused a lawmaker’s request to provide the list of library materials that have been removed under the legislation, citing security risks.

A November 2021 investigation by HKFP found that public libraries had removed 29 out of 149 books about the Tiananmen crackdown from their shelves, a total of 263 individual copies, over the past 12 years.

Hong Kong Central Library
Hong Kong Central Library. File photo: GovHK.

“Any library material which was suspected of breaching the National Security Law or other laws would be suspended from library services,” the Audit Commission’s report read. “Upon careful examination, if it was ascertained that the content of the material concerned posed a risk of violating the law, it would be withdrawn from the library collections permanently and disposed of.”

The report added that examining library books for national security risks was an “ongoing exercise.”

Besides public libraries, authorities have also called on schools to ensure that the titles stocked in their libraries do not endanger national security. Local media has reported that hundreds of books touching on topics such as the protests in 2019 and the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 have been removed from school libraries.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.