Police show offending books © Getty Images

Hong Kong: Conviction of children’s book publishers an absurd example of unrelenting repression

Responding to the “sedition” convictions handed down today to five Hong Kong speech therapists who published illustrated children’s books about mass protests and other events in the city, Amnesty International’s China campaigner Gwen Lee said:

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

“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.

“The Hong Kong authorities’ recent revival of colonial-era sedition charges to prosecutive activists, journalists and writers is a brazen act of repression. No one had been charged with sedition since 1967 until the Hong Kong government began weaponizing these provisions to intensify its crackdown on freedom of expression.

“The Hong Kong government must abolish the archaic sedition laws that are being 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 immediately released.”

Background:

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

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

In books such as The Guardians of Sheep Village, The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village and The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village, Hong Kong residents were depicted as sheep and mainland Chinese authorities as wolves. 

National security police said the illustrated books – which were aimed at children between four and seven years old – had a “seditious intent” and “incited violence”.

Since 2020, the Hong Kong government has been using colonial-era sedition charges – alongside the repressive National Security Law which was enacted in June of that year – to stamp out dissent.

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

In July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the Hong Kong government’s use of colonial-era sedition charges to target people for exercising their right to freedom of expression. It called for the repeal of sedition offences and to end 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.