Hong Kong. Sentencing of children’s book publishers is an absurd example of relentless repression

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Responding to the ‘sedition’ convictions handed down today against five Hong Kong speech therapists who published picture books for children about the mass protests and other events in the city, Gwen Lee, Amnesty International’s China activist , said :

“In today’s Hong Kong, you can go to jail for publishing children’s books with drawings of wolves and sheep. These convictions for “sedition” are an absurd example of the disintegration of human rights in the city.

“Writing children’s books 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.

“The Hong Kong authorities’ recent revival of colonial-era sedition charges against activists, journalists and writers is a shameless act of repression. No one had been charged with sedition since 1967 until the Hong Kong government began to weaponize these provisions to step up its crackdown on free speech.

“The Hong Kong government must abolish archaic sedition laws that are used to prosecute people solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. These five speech therapists have been unjustly detained, and they must be released immediately.

Background:

Two men and three women, who were all members of the Hong Kong General Union of Speech-Language Pathologists at the time the books were published, were today convicted of sedition and face up to two years in prison. The government revoked the union’s registration in October 2021, alleging it was being used for “unlawful purposes”. The group is to be sentenced on Saturday.

All five were arrested in July 2021 for publishing a series of children’s books about the 2019 mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and other issues.

In books like Guardians of the Sheep Village, The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village and The Sheep Village Garbage Collectorsthe people of Hong Kong were portrayed as sheep and mainland Chinese authorities as wolves.

National Security Police said the picture books – which were aimed at children between the ages of four and seven – had a “seditious intent” and “incited violence”.

Since 2020, the Hong Kong government has used colonial-era sedition charges — alongside the repressive national security law that was enacted in June of that year — to stamp out dissent.

Those charged with sedition have faced some of the same draconian measures as those targeted by the National Security Act. When one of the speech therapists, Sidney Ng, applied for bail in 2021, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that the strict bail threshold applicable in cases involving national security charges also applied to this case.

In July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern on the Hong Kong government’s use of colonial-era sedition charges to target people exercising their right to free speech. He called for the repeal of sedition offenses and an end to their use to suppress criticism or dissent.

Under international law and standards, the right to freedom of expression applies to information, ideas and opinions of all kinds, including those that some may find offensive.


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