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In Hong Kong, a new bookstore closes its doors under multiple inspections

In a normally quiet Hong Kong cul-de-sac, hundreds of people gathered this weekend to say goodbye to the independent bookstore Mount Zero, forced to close after multiple anonymous complaints and inspections.

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In Hong Kong, a new bookstore closes its doors under multiple inspections

In a normally quiet Hong Kong cul-de-sac, hundreds of people gathered this weekend to say goodbye to the independent bookstore Mount Zero, forced to close after multiple anonymous complaints and inspections. The bookstore had announced it would close in April.

Accused of minor offenses, including illegal occupation of government land for tiling the sidewalk in front of her shop, she was under threat of heavy fines and prison sentences. Since a national security law in 2020 in Hong Kong, the culture sector has faced fear of censorship, and the few bookstores that remain say they are under increasing pressure from the authorities.

On Sunday evening, under the inscription "ideas are bulletproof", the bookstore offered green pea soup, biscuits and grilled pork to its loyal customers for its last hours of existence. “The authorities often say that Hong Kong will return to normal.” But “these things will haunt our lives,” Ivan Choy, political science expert, and one participant told AFP. A second national security law came into force at the end of March in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory which could, rights defenders fear, relegate any expression of pro-democracy sentiments underground and stifle cultural and artistic freedoms.

The Hong Kong government says the new national security law will not restrict freedom of expression. Founded almost six years ago, Mount Zero Bookstore has witnessed historic events in Hong Kong: from major pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020 to the ensuing political crackdown at the hands of Beijing. Customers of this progressive bookstore deplore that it seems to have been the victim of political headwinds. “These bookstores are meeting places for book lovers, it is a shame to lose them,” remarks Leo, a computer science student who does not wish to give his last name, with a book of poetry in his hand that he has just to buy.

The two-story store often hosted cultural events, such as book talks and outdoor concerts, which allowed it to form a devoted community. For Margaret Ng, a lawyer and former politician, this store was a meeting point for readers who shared the same interests. “You could see at Mount Zero the aspirations of young people to express themselves in literature and create their own community.” But in December, several independent bookstores in Hong Kong reported an increase in inspections by the authorities, sometimes following anonymous complaints, particularly on fire safety and the Labor Code.

In announcing its closure last year, Mount Zero said it hoped that the anonymous person at the origin of numerous complaints against it, “could take a break” to spare him the incessant monitoring visits from different city departments. “The time saved could be used to sit down and read a book properly,” the bookstore suggested. The AFP is unable to independently verify the nature of the complaints. “If the government wants more people to stay in Hong Kong, it must ask itself if there are still places in this city where we can stay,” notes Ivan Choy.

As night falls, the lights at Mount Zero go out, but book lovers say the bookstore's impact on their small community will not be forgotten. “What really matters in the case of Mount Zero is not a particular bookstore,” notes Margaret Ng. “This is the spirit, and this spirit is unshakable.”

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