Five Hong Kong speech-language pathologists were sentenced to 19 months in prison on Saturday for publishing children’s books that portray supporters of local democracy as sheep defending their village against wolves allegedly representing Beijing.
They were convicted of “sedition” on Wednesday under a law inherited from British colonization and used by current authorities to clamp down on dissent alongside a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.
The authors of the books, Lai Man-ling, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho, are founders of the speech therapists’ union and remained in prison for more than a year before the trial.
The group can be released in 31 days, after deducting the sentence already served, one of its lawyers said on Saturday.
The five professionals decided to publish three picture books for young readers to explain the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
The books were published in 2020, a year after the massive and often violent demonstrations of the pro-democracy movement.
This Saturday, before Judge Kwok Wai Kin, who called the works “brainwashing”, three of them said they had no regrets.
Melody Yeung, 28, added that she hopes to side with the sheep. “I only regret one thing: that I didn’t publish more books before I was arrested,” she said in court.
Sidney Ng, 27, said through his lawyer that the legal actions were “intimidating civil society and alienating Hong Kongers”.
The prosecution said the picture books displayed “anti-Chinese sentiment” and were intended to “incite readers’ hatred of mainland Chinese authorities.”
But the defendants argued that the books told “the story from the people’s point of view” and were intended to help children understand systemic injustices in society.
Amnesty International, which recently left Hong Kong under the National Security Act, described these sentences as “an absurd example of relentless repression”.
Until recently, Hong Kong was a bastion of free speech in China and home to a vibrant and critical publishing industry.
But China has spurred a broad political crackdown on the city in response to the massive and often violent protests that took place in 2019.
Leading figures in the movement are currently in prison, awaiting trial or on the run abroad.
Dozens of civil society groups, including many unions, were suppressed.