Two Hong Kong speech therapists are set to challenge their convictions after they were jailed for 19 months each under the colonial-era sedition law earlier this month. A local court ruled that they had conspired with three other people to publish a series of illustrated books about sheep and wolves that effectively “brainwashed” young readers with anti-China sentiment.

The Department of Justice confirmed on Thursday that speech therapists Lorie Lai and Samuel Chan submitted applications to apply for leave to appeal against their convictions. A hearing date has not yet been fixed.

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.

Lai and Chan are two of the five executive council members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists who were convicted and put behind bars by District Judge Kwok Wai-kin in early September. The judge ruled that the group had conspired to print, publish, distribute and display three books with seditious intent between June 2020 and July last year.

The books in question were said to have alluded to the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest, the detention of 12 Hong Kong fugitives by the Chinese authorities, and a strike staged by Hong Kong medics at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

By implying that Chinese government were wolves and the Hong Kong chief executive was a wolf who “masqueraded as a sheep” and was instructed by the “Wolf-chairman,” Kwok said the publishers did not recognise China’s resumption of sovereign over Hong Kong. Readers, who may be as young as four years old, would be “led to hate and excite their disaffection against the Central Authorities,” the court ruled.

Once the children “internalised” fear and hatred, Hong Kong would see “the seed of instability” being sown, Kwok said when he meted out 19 months of imprisonment to each of the five defendants.

Kwok had told Lai, who was the chairwoman of the union, that she could file an appeal if she disagreed with the verdict, after the speech therapist asked questions such as “How free are we?” and “Is freedom really free?” during her mitigation.

Kwok Wai-kin
Judge Kwok Wai-kin. Photo: Judiciary.

The other speech therapists convicted included the union’s external vice-chair Melody Yeung, secretary Sidney Ng and committee member Fong Tsz-ho.

The group had already spent around a year in custody before their case moved to trial. Taking into account the time they have spent in detention, they are expected to be released from jail on October 10, HKFP has learned.

‘Accidentally obtained’

On Wednesday, an Instagram account “sheepvillage2.0” shared a link to a website where PDF versions of the three illustrated books about sheep and wolves could be downloaded in Cantonese, English and Mandarin.

The page was operated by a group of Hong Kong educators now based overseas, its biography on Instagram suggested. The group said they had “accidentally obtained” files of the three publications, which they described as “banned books.”

Sheepvillage2.0 speech therapist
A website called “sheepvillage2.0” which provides PDF versions of the three children’s books that were ruled as seditious for download. Photo: sheepvillage2.0 website screenshot.

The group also created three new books based on the storyline of the sheep and wolves, which were set to be released on Saturday, China’s National Day.

“We hope that the real history of Hong Kong can be seen and continue to be passed on. The illustrated books have become banned books in Hong Kong, then let us who are based abroad continue to promote them. Historical events that happened cannot easily be hidden,” the Instagram post read.

The group appealed for donations, which they said would be used to print the children’s books. They added the entire operation is conducted overseas and “had no connections with Hong Kong.”

Publications can ‘easily radicalise’ people

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, police cited Kwok’s judgement which labelled the existing three books set in the sheep village as “seditious publications.” The seditious intent of these books not merely stemmed from their content, but also the impact they could have on the minds of children, police said, quoting Kwok.

Police went on to say that anyone who prints, publishes, sells, distributes, displays or reproduces seditious publications would be in breach of the sedition law. Anyone in possession of seditious publications without lawful excuse is also guilty of an offence.

Hong Kong police
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“What Hong Kong has experienced in recent years is a strong proof that inciting behaviour, speech and publication can easily radicalise the general public, which will eventually lead to large-scale illegal and violent behaviour, terrorist acts, and behaviour endangering national security,” police wrote in an email reply on Thursday evening.

“Considering the potential national security risks, this indeed needs serious attention,” the Force added.

Police urged people to “draw the line” from illegal behaviour that allegedly breaches the national security law and other laws to avoid “unnecessary legal risks.” They also asked people to contact the national security hotline if they had relevant information on national security crimes.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.