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Speech therapists denied free speech in Hong-Kong

A Hong-Kong judge sentenced five Hong Kong speech therapists on Saturday to 19 months in jail for conspiracy to publish seditious children’s books, featuring cartoons of sheep and wolves 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”, which the Hong Kong government has rejected.

Defendants Lai Man-ling, Melody Yeung Yat-gee, Sidney Ng Hau-yi, Samuel Chan Yuen-sum and Fong Tsz Ho, who had pleaded not guilty, were accused of publishing three books featuring cartoons of sheep fighting against wolves.

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

The Orwellian trial

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”, saying the works sowed seeds of “instability”.

The five speech therapists, aged 26 to 29, were convicted by Kwok, who was handpicked by the city’s leader to try national security cases. The defendants were members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which Judge Kwok said “was clearly set up for political purposes”.

Judge Kwok said in his verdict that “children will be led into the belief that the PRC Government is coming to Hong Kong with the wicked intention of taking away their home and ruining their happy life with no right to do so at all,” referring to the People’s Republic of China.

It is the first time a seditious publications case has gone to trial since the 2019 protests and the imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020, which officials said was vital to restore stability.

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

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