AFP, published Saturday 10 September 2022 at 12:40
Five Hong Kong citizens were sentenced to 19 months in prison on Saturday for publishing children’s books portraying supporters of local democracy as sheep defending their village from the wolves believed to represent Beijing.
They were found guilty of “sedition” on Wednesday, under a law inherited from British colonization and used by current authorities to stifle dissent along with the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.
Lai Man-ling, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho, all founding members of the speech therapists union behind the books, were detained for more than a year before the trial.
The group could be released within 31 days of the deduction of the already served sentence, one of their lawyers estimated Saturday.
The five speech therapists had decided to publish three picture books for young readers with the aim of explaining the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The books were published in 2020, just a year after the movement’s large, often violent protests.
In one of these books, titled “Defenders of the Sheep Village”, a group of wolves attempt to occupy a village of sheep, which they fight back.
In another, wolves are depicted as being dirty and bringing disease to the sheep village.
On Saturday, in front of Judge Kwok Wai-kin, who once again called these publications a “brainwashing exercise,” three of the five speech therapists said they had no regrets.
Melody Yeung, 28, even assured that she still hoped to be on the side of the sheep.
“My only regret is that I was unable to publish more books before I was arrested,” she told the court.
Sidney Ng, 27, said through his lawyer that the lawsuits “had the effect of intimidating civil society and alienating Hong Kongers from each other.”
– “Seed of instability” –
Prosecutors said the picture books exhibited “anti-Chinese sentiments” and were intended to “incite the readers to hatred of mainland Chinese authorities.”
On Saturday, the judge said there was evidence that fear, hatred and dissatisfaction were, through these books, instilled in the children’s minds.
“Once (the children) internalize this mentality, the seed of instability will be sown,” he insisted.
But the defendants said the books told “the story from the perspective of the people” and were intended to help children understand systemic injustices in society.
“Rather than being seditious, (the books) tell courageous acts for a good cause,” said Sidney Ng.
Amnesty International, which recently left Hong Kong due to the national security law, described the sentences as “an absurd example of relentless repression”.
Until recently, Hong Kong was a bastion of free speech in China and home to a vibrant and critical publishing industry.
But Beijing has unleashed a broad political crackdown in the city in response to the massive and sometimes violent protests that took place in 2019.
The main figures of the movement are today either in prison or awaiting trial, or on the run abroad.
Dozens of civil society groups, including many trade unions, have disappeared.