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Five Hong Kong speech therapists convicted of sedition over children’s book about wolves and sheep | CNN – Latest US News Hub

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Five Hong Kong speech therapists were convicted on Wednesday of conspiring to publish seditious children’s books, in a case that rights defenders said was a major blow to free speech amid a tightening of civil liberties in the Chinese territory.

The center around a set of picture books that tell the story of a sheep village that resists a pack of wolves attacking their home – a story line that government lawyers allege disrespects Beijing’s local government and China’s central government.

In one book, wolves try to take over a village and eat sheep, while in another, 12 sheep are forced to leave their village after being targeted by wolves, which the court believed was an allusion to the case where 12 Hong Kong workers tried to escape to Taiwan as fugitives. But was prevented by Chinese law enforcement.

In a ruling on Wednesday, a Hong Kong District Court judge sided with the prosecution, ruling that the images had a connection to events in the city and finding that the authors intended to “incite hatred or contempt or discontent”. against local and central government or both.

“By characterizing the (People’s Republic of China) government as a wolf … children will be led to believe that (the PRC government) is coming to Hong Kong with the evil intention of taking away their homes and ruining their happy lives without any rights. It must be done,” Judge Kwok Wai Kin wrote in a 67-page document outlining his thinking in the ruling.

“The publishers of the books clearly refuse to acknowledge that (China) has resumed the exercise of (Hong Kong) sovereignty,” Kwok wrote in his decision, referring to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, a former British colony, to Chinese rule.

The case, which comes amid a broader crackdown on civil liberties as part of Beijing’s response to widespread, months-long anti-government protests in 2019, has become a proxy for questions raised about the city’s limits on freedom of expression.

The protests, which arose in response to a proposed bill that could send Hong Kongers across the border to stand trial for crimes, have morphed into a broader pro-democracy movement linked to popular concerns about Beijing’s growing influence in the semi. Autonomous city.

The defense for the accused, who were members of the executive council of the now-defunct General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, argued that the charges brought against them were unconstitutional, as they were inconsistent with their freedom of expression protected under Hong Kong. the law

But Kwok, who is among a small group of judges handpicked by the city’s leader to hear national security cases, rejected the challenge, saying limited restrictions on freedom of expression were necessary to protect national security. and public order.

In a document outlining the reasons for the guilty verdict, Kwok contended that the books were merely fiction to promote universal values, another argument raised by the defense, pointing to a foreword to a book that referred to an “anti-law movement” in 2019 and Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. The “one country, two systems” mechanism governing its relationship.

A sentencing will be announced on Saturday, according to public broadcaster RTHK, which could see the defendants – who have been refused bail since their arrest in July 2021 – handed up to two years in prison. Laurie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sydney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong, aged 25 to 28, have all pleaded not guilty.

The case came into the public eye after their arrest, when police in a tweet accused the group of “sugarcoating’ illegal acts” and “glorifying the escape of fugitives,” with officials raising specific concerns that the target audience was children. Beijing and local leaders have tried to encourage national pride among Hong Kong’s youth, including by strengthening national education in the local curriculum.

The ruling has met with outrage from rights defenders. In a statement, Human Rights Watch accused the Hong Kong government of using “too broad” sedition laws to “punish petty speech crimes.”

“People in Hong Kong used to read about unjustified prosecutions of people in mainland China for writing political allegories, but now this is happening in Hong Kong,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Hong Kong authorities should reverse this dramatic erosion of freedom and revoke the convictions of five children’s book authors.”

In July, the UN Human Rights Committee also called on Hong Kong to scrap its colonial-era sedition law, saying it was concerned about its use to limit citizens’ “legitimate right to freedom of expression”.

In a reply, the government said the law was not used to “silence any expression of opinion which is genuine criticism against the government based on objective facts alone.”

The law, part of a 1938 crime ordinance that lay unused for decades, has been revived alongside Beijing’s 2020 introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong that targets secession, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist activity – with a maximum sentence of life in prison. , In jail.

Last year a court ruled that parts of the original Sedition Act that referred to the emperor could be changed to refer to the central government or the Hong Kong government. A conviction carries a maximum sentence of two years.

Other recent cases include a nine-month prison sentence for a 75-year-old activist earlier this year for planning to protest against the Beijing Winter Olympics. Last month, two men were arrested on suspicion of violating the law in connection with a Facebook group they reportedly operated.


Five Hong Kong speech therapists convicted of sedition over children’s book about wolves and sheep | CNN

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