Five speech therapists convicted for sedition in Hong Kong over publishing kids’ books

Domestic News

A series of children’s picture books about a village of sheep under attack by a village of wolves has been branded as seditious content by a Hong Kong judge, who today convicted five speech therapists with sentences of up to two years in prison.

Illustration by Derek Zheng for The China Project

A Hong Kong court on Wednesday convicted five speech therapists of sedition for publishing a series of children’s picture books, in a sign that authorities are ramping up their crackdown on national security restrictions in the Chinese city.

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The five convicted could face up to two years in prison for “conspiring to print, publish, distribute, or display seditious publications,” the maximum sentence for the colonial-era offense. All five, Lorie Lai Ming-ling (黎雯齡 Lí Wénlíng), Melody Yeung Yat-yee (楊逸意 Yáng Yìyì), Sidney Ng Hau-yi (伍巧怡 Wǔ Qiǎoyí), Samuel Chan Yuen-sum (陳源森 Chén Yuánsēn), and Marco Fong Tsz-ho (方梓皓 Fāng Zǐhào), aged 25 to 28, pleaded not guilty and will appeal the verdict, with sentencing expected on September 10.

  • “Seditious intention stems not merely from the words, but from the words with the proscribed effects intended to result in the mind of children,” said Hong Kong district judge Kwok Wai-kin (郭偉健 Guō Wěijiàn) while delivering the verdict. (You can find the verdict, which was delivered in English and Chinese, by searching for citation number HKDC 981, filtered by District Court cases, under Newly Added Judgments here.)

The judge claimed that those charged had “incited hatred” when the now-disbanded General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, a pro-democracy labor union of which all five were executive committee members, published three stories in 2020 and 2021 about a village of sheep that was — in the judge’s words — “oppressed” by a village of wolves.

  • Prosecutors alleged that the stories “indoctrinated” children to support Hong Kong separatism and fueled “anti-Chinese” sentiment in light of the protests that began just a year earlier.
  • One of the books, titled Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village, showed the animals fleeing a group of wolves before being captured at sea and sent to prison.
  • The judge said that “reading just one of the books” was sufficient to convey “the broad brush but deep impression…that the wolves are evil and the sheep are kind…The Wolf-chairman is a tyrant.”

The judge did mention one specific reference in the books to actual events in Hong Kong:

In the foreword of Book 1, it was stated explicitly that “2019 was [a] turning point in Hong Kong. The anti-legislation movement wakes us up to realize that we are just frogs being boiled in warm water, and that One Country, Two Systems, separation of power, and freedom of expression were just veils over eyes that are torn apart.”

New York–based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Hong Kong authorities to “quash the sedition convictions,” and encouraged “concerned governments [to] speak out against Hong Kong’s abuse of the sedition law.”

  • “This absurd conviction of five speech therapists under resurrected colonial-era sedition laws for the supposed ‘crime’ of publishing children’s books demonstrates how far freedom of expression has declined in Hong Kong,” said Benedict Rogers, the chief executive of U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong police have arrested Ronson Chan (陳朗昇 Chén Lǎngshēng), the chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, for “obstructing police and public disorder” after he refused to show his identity card to the police while reporting.

  • Last month, ​​Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung (黃之鋒 Huáng Zhīfēng) was among 29 defendants who pleaded guilty to subversion charges under the National Security Law.
  • Also in August, national security police arrested two administrators of the Facebook page “Civil Servants Secrets” for “seditious” social media posts, without specifying why.

Nadya Yeh