5 Hong Kong speech therapists behind politically provocative children’s books jailed 19 months each under sedition law
- The book series, published between June 2020 and March last year, focused on the struggles between a village of sheep and a group of intruding wolves
- Some defendants adamant, as one likens prosecution to the trials of Socrates and Galileo, with authorities defining the ‘correct historical perspective’
Judge Kwok Wai-kin condemned the five for embarking on a “brainwashing exercise” and indoctrinating children in separatist ideology as he handed down the terms on Saturday.
“The harm caused by the defendants’ crime is to the children in their mindset, and once they [have] internalised this mindset, the seed of instability will be sown in [mainland China] and [Hong Kong],” he said.
The books, published between June 2020 and March last year, tell the story of a village of sheep forced to defend itself against a group of intruding wolves following the shepherd’s departure.
Kwok, who is among the few jurists approved by the city’s leader to adjudicate national security cases, held on Wednesday the publications were clear insinuations that Beijing ruined Hongkongers’ “happy life” after Britain handed over the city to China in 1997.
The defendants, who have already been detained for more than a year on national security grounds, are expected to be eligible for early release next month.
But the judge said the five would be limiting themselves if they held onto the belief that motivated them to create the stories in question.
“When are you going to leave the prison of your mind?” he asked the five. “Have you really put the true records of events in your picture books? Have you really put the truth before the children?”
Kwok said the shepherd in the story must return the sheep’s village to the wolves, as in reality, Britain had ruled over the city following a military invasion of China. But he said the series “brushed the true reason under the carpet and hid it from the children” by omitting this essential fact.
“When you said that you did not want the authorities to ‘brainwash the children’, then why is it that you had the right to brainwash them?” he asked.
The judge stressed that children should be taught to love their country and homeland, and just as no one in Europe could deny the existence of the Holocaust, no one in Hong Kong could rely on freedom of speech to reject the fact that Beijing had “undisputable sovereignty over Hong Kong, which is an [inalienable] part of China”.
The five, convicted on a joint count of “conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications”, are former executive members of the defunct General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists.
They are: chairwoman Lorie Lai Man-ling, 26; deputy chairwoman Melody Yeung Yat-yee, 28; secretary Sidney Ng Hau-yi, 29; treasurer Samuel Chan Yuen-sum, 26; and committee member Marco Fong Tsz-ho, 27.
Another deputy chairwoman of the union, speech therapist Wong Hoi-ching, left Hong Kong one day before the five were arrested in July last year.
Some of the defendants remained adamant in their beliefs when they made submissions on mitigation on Saturday. Chairwoman Lai questioned whether freedom with restraints truly qualified as freedom.
Yeung, the deputy chairwoman, compared her prosecution to the trials of Socrates and Galileo, saying the present case was in essence an attempt by authorities to define the “correct historical perspective”.
But she said only a layman’s heart could judge whether the disputed picture books spread rumours or aptly recounted past events.
“I have no regret for choosing to stand with the sheep. My only regret is that I could not publish more picture books before my arrest, and my lack of persistence to ensure the quality of the publications,” Yeung said.
Secretary Ng, in her letter to the court, said the case was but a “silhouette of the greater political context in society”.
“The objective effect of our prosecution is to alarm civil society and cause the estrangement of residents from one another, a result which no one Hongkonger would wish to see,” she wrote.
Ng insisted the picture books merely provided an explanation of the negative sentiments permeating society since anti-government protests in 2019, and called on readers to reflect on their reasons for obeying the law.
Amnesty International said the convictions were “an absurd example of the disintegration of human rights in the city” and accused the government of “weaponising” the sedition law to restrict freedom of expression.
The convictions brought the number of people found guilty of sedition since 1997 to 13. Others found guilty of the crime included online radio hosts, students and a property manager.