HONG KONG - China has wiped the smile off pro-democracy activists' faces by seizing 7,600 rolls of toilet paper featuring Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader Leung Chun-ying pulling a series of ridiculous expressions.
Hong Kong's Democratic Party said the politically charged toilet paper, along with 20,000 packets of tissues, were to be sold at a popular Chinese New Year fair opening next week before the products were seized by mainland authorities.
Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists frequently ridicule Leung, portraying him as Dracula and a wolf, and repeatedly called for him to step down during more than two months of demonstrations late last year.
The Democratic Party - the largest pro-democracy group in the southern Chinese city - hoped to sell the tissues to raise funds for their activities ahead of a week-long holiday beginning on February 19.
"I think the Chinese government just wants to suppress all different opinions," the party's chief Lam Cheuk-ting told AFP, adding that Chinese authorities seized the products at a factory at an undisclosed location on the mainland on Friday morning.
"Our products are just some kind of joke, which presents no harm to so-called national security," Lam said.
"It is a violation of freedom of expression," he said, adding that activists were working on a backup plan to ensure the product range would still be available, but refused to give further details.
Lam said the party was expecting to incur HK$100,000 (S$17,509) in lost sales on top of a $20,000 non-refundable deposit already paid to the manufacturer.
China has promised Hong Kongers the right to vote for their next leader, or chief executive, for the first time in 2017. But it ruled that nominees must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, a proposal which has been heavily criticised by activists.
A British colony until 1997, Hong Kong is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal that allows it far greater civil liberties than those enjoyed on the Chinese mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.
Huge pro-democracy rallies held in the city last year drew around 100,000 at their height and saw intermittent violent clashes with police, but public support faded after key intersections in the city were blocked for two months by sprawling camps.