On Sept. 6, a man in Hong Kong appeared in court and was prosecuted for possession of “seditious” children’s books marking the first case involving a “seditious publication” since the communist government imposed the city’s national security law (NSL) in 2020.
The man, Kurt Leung, was accused of bringing 18 problematic books into Hong Kong, and was charged with inciting violence and promoting “feelings of ill-will and enmity,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) wrote. He currently faces up to two years in prison, Human Rights Watch reported.
All of the books in question are part of the “Sheep Village” series; among them being three copies of one book titled “The Guardians of Sheep Village.”
According to authorities, this series of books “glorified protesters” who rallied against riot police during the protest movement in Hong Kong in 2019, with authorities claiming that the books could “poison” children’s minds.
Appearing at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Sept. 6, Leung’s appeal for bail was denied by Chief Magistrate Victor.
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The city-based Ming Pao newspaper claimed that the books were delivered to Leung from the UK, and were confiscated during “a joint search operation by national security police and customs officials.”
The sedition charge states that he intentionally imported the books with “the specific purpose” of “provoking rebellion” against both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments and to incite disobedience against the law.
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Of sheep and wolves
The three picture books of the “Sheep Village” series — “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” “The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village,” and “The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village” — are about a flock of sheep fighting against a pack of tyrannical wolves by going on strikes, voting and printing newspapers.
One of the books, RFA wrote, displayed the wolves as dirty while the sheep were clean. Another showcases the heroism of the sheep who fought against the wolves despite their peaceful natures.
“The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village” is also a reference to the 12 Hongkongers who attempted to flee to Taiwan by speedboat last year, only to be caught by authorities.
The books were co-written by five speech therapists Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong all of whom are members of the now-defunct General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, who published the books.
Prosecutors alleged that the books were intended to teach youths about the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, spread “separatism”, and incite “hatred” against the government.
They were sentenced to jail for 19 months a piece in September 2022, with authorities saying that they conspired “to print, publish, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications” under the sedition law.
‘A new low’
Until last year, the sedition law applied in these cases had not been used since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took claim of Hong Kong from the British in 1997. It was forced upon the public in 2019 following the extradition bill protests and unrest.
The return of the sedition law saw dozens arrested, with those convicted facing up to two years in jail. Though the sentence is tamer than what can be ordered under the national security law, offenders still fall victim to a “higher bail threshold,” typically being remanded in custody upon being charged.
Former pro-democracy District Councilor Franco Cheung believes it is “unreasonable” to prosecute people for purchasing books from abroad.
“The blurring of the lines has gotten to the point where even schools and libraries don’t know which books are acceptable and which aren’t.” Cheung said, referring to the pulling of supposedly suspicious titles from libraries and schools in Hong Kong.
“Those of us who are overseas don’t need to worry or censor ourselves, and we must hold onto these books,” he said. “We don’t know when books that are being published now will no longer be published, or be destroyed.”
Amnesty International said the cases of sedition were “a new low” for Hong Kong’s human rights, calling for the charges to be lifted.
“It is the latest example of the Hong Kong authorities using the colonial-era sedition law as a pretext for cracking down on critical voices,” group deputy regional director Hana Young said in a statement.
“These ludicrous sedition charges must be dropped. No one should be imprisoned only because they own children’s books,” Young said.