Democrats were depicted in books as sheep against wolves – Copyright AFP/File ISAAC LAWRENCE
Five speech therapists jailed in Hong Kong for the Sabbath mutiny over a series of illustrated children’s books depicting urban democrats as sheep protecting their village from wolves.
They join a growing list of residents imprisoned on charges of colonial-era sedition that authorities rolled out alongside a national security law passed by Beijing in 2020 to crack down on dissent.
The group, who are in their twenties and belong to a speech therapists union, have been behind bars for more than a year, awaiting sentencing.
They were all sentenced to 19 months in prison for an illustrated book series that began in 2020 to explain Hong Kong’s democracy movement to children. According to one of their lawyers, the group could be released 31 days after deductions for time served.
Three of them showed a defiant tone during the sentencing on Saturday.
Melody Yung told the court that she did not regret her choice and hoped to always stand on the side of the sheep.
“My only regret is that I wasn’t able to publish more picture books before I got arrested.”
The defendant’s lawyer, Sidney Ng, quoted his client as saying that the prosecution “had the objective effect of intimidating civil society and alienating Hong Kongers from each other.”
Judge Kwok Wai-kin scolded the defendants for brainwashing children and sowing the “seed of instability” in the city and throughout China.
A judge chosen by Hong Kong’s leader from a group of lawyers to hear national security cases on Wednesday convicted the group of conspiring to spread rebellious content.
– “People’s History” –
Prosecutors argued that the books contained “anti-Chinese sentiment” and were intended to “incite readers’ hatred of mainland authorities.”
In one book, a sheep village fights off an invasion of wolves, and in another, dogs are portrayed as spreading disease in the sheep village.
On Saturday, the judge said the books were a “brainwashing exercise” and there was clear evidence of fear, hatred and resentment instilled in children.
“Once (children) internalize this mindset, the seeds of instability will be sown,” he said.
But the defendants argued that the books chronicled “history from the point of view of the people” and were meant to help children understand systemic injustice in society.
“Instead of being an instigator, (the books) recorded courageous actions in the name of a just cause,” Ng said.
Amnesty International, which recently left Hong Kong over the national security law, called the convictions “an absurd example of ruthless repression.”
Hong Kong has been a bastion of free speech in China and home to a vibrant and outspoken publishing industry.
But Beijing unleashed a wide-ranging political crackdown on the city in response to large-scale and sometimes violent democratic protests three years ago.
The sedition law, which provides for a maximum penalty of two years in prison, lay dormant for decades but was recently passed by police and prosecutors.