Two owners of a pro-democracy tea shop have been jailed for six and seven months over anti-vaccine social media posts made earlier this year.

Hau Wing-yan, 24, and Lam Yuen-yi, 22, pleaded guilty to doing an act or acts with seditious intention at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday, local media reported.

Pro-democracy tea shop Ascohesion Cheese Tea. Photo: OpenRice.

The pair were the owners of Ascohesion Cheese Tea. They stood accused of making posts on the business’ Facebook and Instagram accounts between February 9 and 17 calling on the public to boycott the Covid-19 vaccine, therefore making the government’s anti-epidemic work more difficult, according to InMedia.

They were also accused of encouraging students who had received their vaccinations to lie about experiencing side effects that prevented them from going to class and sitting their exams to put pressure on schools and the Education Bureau.

Principal Magistrate Peter Law said the defendants’ posts were not grounded in science or medical knowledge, and that they were only venting their dissatisfaction or hatred.

Law said that the social media posts could be quickly and easily shared, and their potential virality could not be overlooked.

West Kowloon Law Courts
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

He added that Hau played a major role by making the posts and targeting students. She was handed a starting sentence of 10 and a half months in jail, but it was reduced to 7 months as she pleaded guilty.

The judge said that while Lam did not play a major role, she did not stop others from posting. Lam was given a starting sentence of 9 months, which was reduced to 6 months after she entered a guilty plea.

Undercover arrest

Police arrested Hau during an undercover operation in February.

Posing as a customer, an officer visited the tea shop on the afternoon of February 24 and ordered two drinks. Hau served him, handing him an order chip with a number. The chip was illustrated with the words “9.21 yellow object,” a reference to a protest incident on September 21, 2019 when police were seen on video kicking a protester. In a press conference after, a police spokesperson called the protester a “yellow object.”

The officer came back about half an hour later and arrested Hau, while police arrested Lam in Tsuen Wan.

Police also found pro-democracy accessories at the tea shop, including stickers saying “resist digital surveillance” and “boycott [contact tracing app] LeaveHomeSafe.”

Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

The defence argued that Hau’s mother needed to get vaccinated due to her job and developed serious effects after that, yet her employer still asked her to come to work. The incident caused Hau to harbour prejudice towards the vaccine, as she did not want others to experience what her mother had and therefore urged people not to get jabbed, the defence added.

Lam’s lawyer, meanwhile, argued that she had gotten vaccinated since and has changed her mind about the Covid-19 jab.

The tea shop has already ceased operation, according to restaurant review website OpenRice.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.