The five people will be sentenced on Saturday and face up to two years in prison for publishing books aimed at explaining the democratic movement to children.
A Hong Kong court has convicted five speech therapists of sedition over a series of illustrated children’s books depicting the city’s pro-democracy supporters as sheep defending their village from wolves.
Prosecutors alleged that the three picture books, which sought to explain Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to young people, propagated “separatism” and stoked “hate” and opposition to the government.
Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong, aged between 25 and 28 and all members of a union of speech therapists, had pleaded not guilty.
They chose not to testify during the trial or summon witnesses when proceedings began in July.
Their attorneys argued that the offense of sedition was loosely defined and that each reader should be allowed to make up their own mind about what the characters in the books represent.
They also warned that a guilty verdict would further criminalize political criticism and have a chilling effect on society.
It is the first time the case of a seditious publication has gone to trial since the protests that rocked the territory in 2019 and the imposition by Beijing of a national security law the next year. The sedition law, which dates from colonial times, had not been used since 1967 before being reinstated following mass protests.
The charges relate to three books aimed at children aged four to seven: The Guardians of Sheep Village, The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village and The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village.
Their plots relate to several real events, including the 2019 protests, a failed attempt by a group of 12 protesters to flee to Taiwan by speedboat, and a strike by medical personnel at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic calling on Hong Kong to seal its border with China.
In a written summary released Wednesday, District Court Judge Kwok Wai Kin said the three books were seditious not only because of the words “but because of the words of proscribed effects intended for the minds of children.”
“They will be told that in fact they are sheep, and the wolves trying to harm them are the PRC (People’s Republic of China) government and the Hong Kong government,” wrote Kwok, who is part of a panel of national experts. security judges selected by the head of the city.
The five will be sentenced on Saturday. The Sedition Act carries a penalty of up to two years in prison.
In a statement responding to the verdict, Amnesty International’s China campaigner Gwen Lee described the sentencing as an “absurd example of the disintegration of human rights in the city.”
“Writing children’s books is not a crime, and attempting to educate children about recent events in Hong Kong’s history does not constitute an attempt to incite rebellion.”
Prior to the imposition of the security law, Hong Kong enjoyed considerable freedom of expression and was home to a vibrant media and publishing industry.
But the sweeping crackdown following the 2019 protests forced many outlets to close, including the hugely popular tabloid Apple Dailywhile books were removed from libraries and school curricula rewritten to include security law lessons for children from the age of six.
Many pro-democracy activists and politicians are either in prison, awaiting trial or on the run abroadand dozens of civil society groups, including several unions, closed their doors.
Only people who are considered “patriotic” are allowed to hold office in Hong Kong.