The trial of five Hong Kong speech therapists who were arrested last July on sedition charges for writing a series of children’s books about the 2019 pro-democracy mass protests and other hot-button issues has begun.
The group of two men and three women, all members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, have been accused of attempting “to incite hatred of the government” through their illustrated books.
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During the five-day trial this week, district court prosecutors will argue that the books depicting Hong Kong residents as sheep and mainland Chinese wolves were written with “seditious intent”.
The group faces up to two years in prison if found guilty.
At the time of the arrests, police reportedly seized more than 550 books and leaflets from the group and froze 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,391) in assets.
The book titled The Guardians of Sheep Village, The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village, and The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village aim at children between four and seven years old.
Plots contain allegories about the 2019 protests, a failed attempt by a group of 12 protesters to flee to Taiwan by speedboat, and a strike by medical workers at the start of the pandemic calling for Hong Kong to seal its border with China.
“These are very simple story books but inside they have some information and some material inside which [has a] seditious intent, which brings hatred against the government and administration of justice and inciting violence to others,” Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the National Security Department told reporters following the group’s arrest last year.
5 execs of speech therapists’ union #ARRESTED—suspected of conspiring to distribute seditious publications (kids’ storybooks sugarcoating protesters’ unlawful acts+glorifying fugitives fleeing #HK etc.) w/ intent to corrupt the minds of 4 to 7-yr-olds. 2 yrs in jail if convicted! pic.twitter.com/JHhiu7p8j7
— Hong Kong Police Force (@hkpoliceforce) July 22, 2021
In response to the arrests, the Hong Kong’s Confederation of Trade Unions said at the time that “today, a children’s book is defined as seditious. Tomorrow, any metaphors … could be read as seditious words, and everyone in society is on edge.”
The Confederation of Trade Unions and the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists were later forced to disband in September and October 21.
They were among the 58 civil society groups that have shut their doors since national security legislation was imposed in June 2020, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
While the legislation only concerns the four crimes of session, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, Hong Kong’s new national security police have also made use of colonial-era sedition laws.
The laws have been dormant for decades, but they date back to the 1930s when the British colonial government was attempting to stamp out local communist activity.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International now say they are being used to silence dissent in Asia’s former free-speech capital.
The South China Morning Post newspaper reported on Tuesday that one in five national security arrests since June 2020 have been made under the colonial sedition law.