Hong Kong court sentences speech therapists to 19 months in prison over ‘seditious’ children’s books

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A Hong Kong court on Saturday sentenced five speech therapists to 19 months in prison over children’s books deemed to be seditious, in a case that rights defenders say marks a major blow to free speech amid a tightening of civil liberties in the Chinese territory.

On Wednesday, Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan, and Marco Fong were found guilty of “conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications.”

Judge W. K. Kwok called the defendants’ actions “a brainwashing exercise with a view to guiding 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 that she had not published more picture books before her arrest,” according to court documents.

The charges center around a set of books telling the stories of a village of sheep resisting a pack of wolves invading their home – a storyline that the government prosecutors alleged was meant to provoke contempt of the local government and China’s central government in Beijing.

In one book, the wolves tried to takeover a village and eat the sheep, in another, 12 sheep are forced to leave their village after being targeted by the wolves, which the court believed alluded to the case where 12 Hong Kong activists attempted to flee the city to Taiwan as fugitives, but were intercepted by Chinese law enforcement.

In a ruling Wednesday, a Hong Kong District Court judge sided with the prosecution, expressing his view that the images had a correlation to events in city, and finding that the authors had the intention to “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” against the local and central government, or both.

“By identifying (the People’s Republic of China) government as the wolves … the children will be led into belief that (the PRC government) is coming to Hong Kong with the wicked intention of taking away their home and ruining their happy life with no right to do so at all,” the judge Kwok Wai Kin wrote in a 67-page document outlining his thinking on the verdict.

“The publishers of the books clearly refuse to recognize that (China) has resumed exercising sovereignty over (Hong Kong),” Kwok wrote in his decision, referring to the transfer of Hong Kong, a former British colony, to Chinese rule in 1997.

Agencies

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