5 Hong Kong Speech Therapists Sentenced to 19 Months Over Children’s Books

By Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
September 11, 2022 Updated: September 11, 2022

HONG KONG—Five Hong Kong speech therapists were sentenced on Saturday to 19 months in jail for conspiracy to publish “seditious” children’s books that prosecutors had deemed anti-government.

The five were convicted on Wednesday under a colonial-era sedition law in a case denounced by rights campaigners as a “brazen act of repression.”

The defendants, who had pleaded not guilty, were accused of publishing three books featuring cartoons of sheep fighting against wolves.

District Court Judge Kwok Wai Kin said the defendants had to be punished “not because of the publication or the words but because of their harm or the risk of harm to the minds of children.”

Hong Kong speech therapists
Children’s books that five people were arrested over suspicion of conspiring to publish “seditious material” in Hong Kong on July 22, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan, and Marco Fong, aged 26 to 29, were convicted by Kwok, who was handpicked by the city’s leader to try national security cases.

The books referred to events including the city’s mass pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the case of 12 pro-democracy protesters who fled Hong Kong by speedboat in 2020 and were captured by the Chinese coastguard.

In one book, wolves want to occupy a village and eat the sheep, who in turn start to fight back.

It is the first time a case of the kind has gone to trial since the 2019 protests and the imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020.

One of the group’s lawyers estimated that the five could be out of jail in 31 days once deductions were made, including the 13 months they spent in jail awaiting trial.

Acknowledging they could soon leave prison, Kwok asked the five “when [they] would leave the prison of [their] own mind[s].”

Lai’s mitigation was interrupted by Kwok, who said “the court is not a place to make political speech.”

Before being stopped, Lai had said the core issue of the trial was freedom of speech and “freedom with limitations is not freedom.”

Hong Kong speech therapists
Children’s books that five people were arrested over suspicion of conspiring to publish “seditious material” in Hong Kong on July 22, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Defendant Yeung quoted U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King saying “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

“I don’t regret my choice, and I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep,” Yeung said.

Reuters