By Julia Fitzpatrick
Five speech therapists in Hong Kong have been found guilty of sedition over the publication of three illustrated children’s books. Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan, and Marco Fong pled not guilty to the charge of conspiracy to publish, print, distribute, display, or reproduce seditious material. The five had already spent over a year in custody waiting for the verdict and have now been sentenced to nineteen months imprisonment each.
The trial focused on one of the books, which told the story of twelve sheep whose village was invaded by wolves. Attempting to flee their village, the sheep were captured and imprisoned. The tale has been widely interpreted as a reference to the twelve protesters who attempted to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan in 2020 but were caught by Chinese law enforcement. Prosecutors argued that the analogy of sheep and wolves had aimed to incite hatred against Chinese people. The defence rejected this, saying the books were not a call to arms but rather an educational resource, open to interpretation, which taught children “history from the people’s perspective.”
The judge’s verdict sided with the prosecution, describing the books as a deliberate “brainwashing exercise.” Judge Kwok Wai-kin, who sits a panel of government-appointed national security judges, ruled that “the seditious intention stems not merely from the words, but from the words with the proscribed effects intended to result in the mind of children.” The books, Kwok said, aimed to sow the “seed of instability” in Hong Kong and China by indoctrinating children with a separatist ideology.
The crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong has been escalating since China’s imposition of a new national security law in 2020. The speech therapists were charged under a colonial-era sedition law which was applied by the British administration against activists in the pro-Beijing riots of 1967. The sedition law was rarely used in the decades following the riots. Since 2020, however, it has been used to justify over sixty arrests for acts which previously fell under the legal right to protest and debate.
There is widespread concern about the increasingly broad application of the sedition law and its assault on freedom of expression. Amnesty International has called for the release of the speech therapists: “writing books for children 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.”