Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong were found guilty Wednesday of “conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display and/or reproduce incendiary publications”.
Judge WK Kwok called the defendants’ actions “brainwashing to guide the very young children to accept their views and values, i.e. (Beijing) has no sovereignty over (Hong Kong).”
Yeung said in court on Saturday that her “only regret was not having published more picture books before her arrest,” according to court documents.
The indictment revolves around a series of books that tell the stories of a village of sheep who resisted a wolf pack that invaded their home — a storyline that prosecutors claimed was designed to show contempt for the local government and the Chinese. central government in Beijing.
In one book the wolves try to take over a village and eat the sheep, in another book 12 sheep are forced to leave their village after being targeted by the wolves. the city to Taiwan as fugitives, but were intercepted by Chinese law enforcement.
In a ruling on Wednesday, a Hong Kong District Court judge sided with the prosecution, expressing his view that the images had a correlation with events in the city, finding that the authors intended “to convey hatred or contempt.” cause or provoke displeasure” against the local and central government, or both.
“By identifying the government (of the People’s Republic of China) as the wolves…the children will believe that (the government of the PRC) is coming to Hong Kong with the ill intent of taking their home and ruining their happy life with no right to do that at all,” Judge Kwok Wai Kin wrote in a 67-page document outlining his thoughts on the verdict.
“The publishers of the books clearly refuse to acknowledge that (China) has resumed sovereignty over (Hong Kong),” Kwok wrote in his decision, referring to the handover of Hong Kong, a former British colony, to Chinese rule in 1997.
The case has become a proxy for looming questions about the limits of free speech in the city amid a wider crackdown on civil liberties as part of Beijing’s response to large-scale months-long anti-government protests in 2019.
Those protests, sparked in response to a bill that would allow Hong Kongers to be tried for crimes across the border, turned into a larger pro-democracy movement also linked to popular concerns about Beijing’s growing influence in the semi-democratic world. autonomous city.
The defense of the accused, who were all members of the executive council of the now-defunct General Union of the Hong Kong Speech Therapists, had argued that the charges against them were unconstitutional as they violated their freedoms of expression protected. under Hong Kong law.
But Kwok, who is also part of a small cohort of judges handpicked by the city’s leader to hear national security cases, dismissed that challenge, saying instead that limited restrictions on freedom of expression were necessary for the protection of national security and public order.
In a document outlining the reasons for the guilty plea, Kwok disputes that the books were mere fables promoting universal values, another argument advanced by the defense, citing a preface in one of the books that refers to a “anti-legislative movement” in 2019 and the “One Country, Two Systems” mechanism governing Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland.
The case came into the public eye after their arrest, when police accused the group in a Tweet of “unlawful acts by protesters” and “glorifying fleeing fugitives”, with officials raising specific concerns as the target audience was children. Beijing and local leaders have sought to encourage national pride among Hong Kong youth, including by strengthening national education in local curricula.
The verdict has been met with outrage from rights defenders. Human Rights Watch accused the Hong Kong government in a statement of using the “very broad” sedition law “to punish minor language offenses”.
“People in Hong Kong used to read about the absurd persecution of people in mainland China for writing political allegories, but this is now happening in Hong Kong,” Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Hong Kong authorities must reverse this dramatic decline in freedoms and quash the convictions of the five children’s authors.”
In July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee also called on Hong Kong to repeal its colonial-era sedition law, saying it was concerned about using it to limit citizens’ “legitimate right to freedom of expression.”
In a response, the government said the use of the law was “not intended to silence an opinion that is only sincere criticism of the government based on objective facts”.
The law, part of a 1938 crime ordinance that has not been used for decades, has been revived along with Beijing’s 2020 enactment of a national security law in Hong Kong targeting secession, subversion, conspiracy with foreign troops and terrorist activity. – with a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Last year, a court ruled that parts of the original sedition law referring to the monarch could be converted to references to the central government or the Hong Kong government. A conviction carries a maximum sentence of two years.
Other recent cases have included the sentence of a 75-year-old activist to nine months in prison for planning to protest the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year. Last month, two men were arrested on suspicion of violating the law in connection with a Facebook group they allegedly ran.