Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has rejected an application to challenge a lower court’s bail refusal to a speech therapist, who was accused of publishing seditious children’s books about sheep.

allegedly seditious children's book
A page from 12 Warriors of the Sheep Village depicting the sheep asking whether the 12 sheep caught were eaten by the wolves. Photo: The General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists.

Lai Man-ling, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong were arrested by national security police in July. They are accused of conspiring with Wong Hoi-ching, another member of the union, in printing, publishing, and distributing three children’s books, Guardians of the Sheep Village, 12 Warriors of the Sheep Village, and Dustman of the Sheep Village.

Their intent was to “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” against the Hong Kong government and “the administration of justice in Hong Kong,” according to the police.

They were charged with two counts of conspiring to publish, distribute, display or reproduce seditious publications, a breach of a colonial-era law under the Crimes Ordinance, and were denied bail by national security magistrate Victor So at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.

Ng, one of the five defendants, took the case up to the Court of Final Appeal seeking leave to challenge the lower courts’ decisions.

Applicable outside security law

Defence counsel Hectar Pun and prosecutor Anthony Chow made submissions to the Court of Final Appeal justices Andrew Cheung, Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok on Thursday. But the judges refused to grant leave to appeal against the bail decision, Ming Pao reported.

HKCTU supporting the speech therapists sheep story books
Members from the disbanded Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions held up paper masks of sheep at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on July 23, 2021 to show solidarity with the speech therapists. FIle Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Pun argued that the five defendants are facing charges under Section 10 of the Crimes Ordinance and not the National Security Law, and therefore the stricter threshold for granting bail should not apply, Stand News reported.

There is a presumption of bail under the Crimes Ordinance, Pun said. If a stricter bail threshold could be applied in non-national security cases, he said, there would be controversial implications — such as whether such cases could be heard before designated judges, with no open trial and no jury, as is the practice for national security cases.

There is no presumption of bail in national security cases. Judges are required to consider whether there are sufficient grounds for believing defendants “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”

National security law
File Photo: GovHK.

Prosecutors argued that the Court of Final Appeal had ruled that sedition is considered an act that endangers national security. Violations of the Crimes Ordinance with relevance to the national security law may also endanger national security.

Other defendants facing sedition charges following their arrest by national security police, including radio host Giggs and activist “Fast Beat” Tam Tak-chi, have been remanded in custody after bail was denied.

Further legal arguments in the case, which is now before the district court, have been adjourned until the top judges issue the reasoning behind their bail decision.

Correction 14.12.2021: A previous version of this story misstated that the Court of Final Appeal rejected granting bail to a group of speech therapists. It rejected one of the speech therapists’ leave of appeal against an earlier bail refusal.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.