In September, five Hong Kong speech therapists were convicted of and jailed for conspiring to publish a series of children’s books, which were said to have a “brainwashing” effect on young children and fuel anti-China sentiments. At least two are seeking to challenge their convictions. Some of the 47 democrats who have pleaded guilty to a subversion charge have voiced their preferences in their sentencing timeline, while defendants in numerous national security cases admitted to their charges.
HKFP continues its monthly roundup of developments.
As of September 16, 215 people have been arrested on suspicion of committing acts endangering national security, according to figures provided by the Security Bureau. The figures cover both people arrested under the national security law and those held under a separate law covering sedition. The Security Bureau did not provide separate figures for sedition offences, despite having done so previously.
Among those arrested, 128 individuals and five companies have been charged, while 34 have been convicted or are awaiting sentencing.
Speech therapists jailed over ‘seditious’ books
Five Hong Kong speech therapists were convicted and jailed under the colonial-era sedition law for conspiring to publish three illustrated books about sheep and wolves, which a local court said amounted to “brainwashing” young readers with anti-China sentiment.
When handing down the verdict, District Judge Kwok Wai-kin said defendants Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho did not recognise China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, as the books they published implied the Chinese authorities were wolves and the Hong Kong chief executive was a wolf who “masqueraded as a sheep” and was instructed by the “Wolf-chairman.”
Fear, hatred, discontent and disaffection were “instilled” in the minds of children through the books’ publication, the judge said when he sentenced the five executive committee members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists to 19 months behind bars each.
“Once they have internalised this mindset… the seed of instability has actually been sown in the HKSAR,” Kwok said.
The group had already been detained for around a year before their case moved to trial. Taking into account the time they have spent in custody, HKFP has learned that they are expected to be released from jail on October 10.
Lai and Chan have filed applications for leave to appeal against their convictions.
Police warn against ‘unnecessary legal risks’
Hong Kong police told HKFP that people should avoid taking “unnecessary legal risks,” after an Instagram account shared a link to a website from which the three “seditious” books produced by the speech therapists could be downloaded in Cantonese, English and Mandarin.
The page was operated by a group of Hong Kong educators now based overseas, its Instagram biography suggested. The group, which said it had no links to any individuals or organisations Hong Kong, also created three new sheep-and-wolves books, which were released on Saturday, when the People’s Republic of China marked 73 years since its founding.
Asked if sharing and downloading electronic versions of the three existing picture books would be seen as breaking the law, police quoted the district judge as saying the volumes were seditious publications.
Anyone who prints, publishes, sells, distributes, displays or reproduces seditious publications would be in breach of the sedition law, the Force said. People who possessed seditious publications without lawful excuse are also guilty of an offence, police added.
17 of 47 democrats discuss sentencing
Seventeen pro-democracy figures who are among the 29 to have pleaded guilty to a subversion charge in the city’s largest national security case were brought before a three-judge panel last month to discuss arrangements for their mitigation and sentencing.
They included Au Nok-hin, Ben Chung, Fergus Leung, Jimmy Sham, Lau Chak-fung, Joshua Wong, Jeremy Tam, Kwok Ka-ki, Alvin Yeung, Wu Chi-wai, Eddie Chu, Sam Cheung, Wong ji-yuet, Andrew Wan, Ventus Lau, Henry Wong and Benny Tai.
The group has admitted to playing a role in an alleged conspiracy to commit subversion involving 47 well-known politicians and activists. The allegation revolves around unofficial primary polls held in July 2020 that aimed to help the opposition camp select candidates for an upcoming Legislative Council election in the hope of securing a majority in the legislature.
According to the prosecution, their intent, if successful, was to abuse their powers as lawmakers to block budget bills, paralyse government operations and ultimately force the chief executive to resign.
Some of the defendants told the High Court that they wanted to be sentenced as soon as possible, citing potential unfairness regarding length of jail term and “anxiety” experienced while in detention. Most of the 47 democrats have been held in custody for more than 18 months already.
But lead prosecutor Andy Lo said the proper arrangement would be to mete out penalties after the trial of their 18 co-defendants who have denied the charge. This would allow the court to better gauge the scope of the alleged conspiracy and the defendants’ individual culpability, the prosecution said.
Some democrats also said they would rather face punishment following the trial, while others indicated that they were “neutral” on the sentencing timeline.
A date for the trial is yet to be set.
Sedition upgraded to subversion
A Hong Kong combat coach who was originally prosecuted under the sedition law saw his charge upgraded to incitement to subversion. The case will also be transferred to the District Court, where the defendant could face up to seven years in prison.
Prosecutors applied to amend the charge against Denis Wong in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. The 59-year-old stands accused of planning to “build an army” to overthrow the government. He was initially charged with acting with seditious intent, which carries a maximum jail term of two years.
The new charge, subversion, is criminalised under the Beijing-imposed national security law, and can warrant up to 10 years of jail, but the District Court can only hand down a maximum sentence of seven years.
Wong and his assistant Iry Cheung were additionally charged with possessing offensive weapons with intent and possessing arms without a licence.
Radio host pleads guilty to sedition
Hong Kong internet radio host Edmund Wan, better known as “Giggs,” pleaded guilty to three counts of money-laundering involving HK$10.3 million and one count of sedition after he was said to have raised funds for protesters who fled to Taiwan.
He was said to have hosted 39 video and audio programmes between February 8 and November 21, 2020, which contained content that incited people to resist or overthrow the Chinese Communist Party, commit vigilantism against government officials and take part in civil disobedience acts to take down the Hong Kong government, among other calls.
His plea deal included agreeing to the prosecution’s request for the crowdfunding proceeds to be confiscated. The Department of Justice dropped two money-laundering charges against his assistant, Alice Lee.
Returning Valiant subversion charge
Choi Wing-kit, founder of self-proclaimed “revolutionary” political group Returning Valiant, pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to incite others to subvert state power under the national security law and one charge of possessing offensive weapons at District Court last month.
The 21-year-old’s guilty plea came after his six co-defendants pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in August. He had asked for more time to review a revised case summary before entering his plea.
The other six were Yuen Ka-him, 17, Wan Chung-wai, 16, Leung Yung-wan, 17, Chris Chan, 26, Tseung Chau Ching-yu, 17 and Kwok Man-hei, 19.
The group was said to have promoted seditious messages and incited subversion by organising street booths and press conferences, as well as on social media, between January and May last year.
During mitigation, one of the defence lawyers said the defendants were ignorant of the national security law and the consequences of breaking it. The Beijing-imposed legislation had only been implemented for about six months when the group committed the offence, the counsel said, and schools had not yet started educating students about it.
The group were remanded into custody and will appear in court again on October 8.
Tiananmen vigil group to face trial in High Court
The national security case against the defunct organiser of Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigils and three of its leaders was transferred to the city’s High Court more than a year after the defendants were charged.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and its of former leaders, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung, were charged with incitement to subversion under the national security law.
The three prominent pro-democracy figures have entered not guilty pleas and are set to stand trial in the High Court, where the maximum penalty for incitement to subversion is 10 years behind bars.
They were arrested and charged in September last year. Ho was the only one granted bail recently, with a cash bail of HK$700,000 and a list of strict bail conditions.
Sedition arrest while mourning Queen
A 43-year-old Hong Kong man surnamed Pang was detained under the colonial-era sedition law while paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth II outside the city’s British consulate. Police said he allegedly committed an act or acts with seditious intent at the site hours after hundreds of Hongkongers had waited in line to sign a book of condolences for Britain’s longest serving monarch.
Local media reported that a man played a harmonica on the pavement opposite the consulate building in Admiralty. The songs he played included “Glory to Hong Kong” – the unofficial anthem of the 2019 protests – and the British national anthem, local media footage showed.
Pang was released on police bail a day later and has to report back to the Force in late November.
National security police contact protest group
Hong Kong marked the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Saturday with official celebrations and members of pro-Beijing groups – some dressed in traditional Chinese clothing – waving the flags of China on the street.
However, unlike in the years before the national security law and Covid-19, the day was free from protests. In a first, the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of Hong Kong’s last active pro-democracy parties, said it would not organise any activities.
Members of LSD told HKFP on Wednesday that they had been contacted by the National Security Department of the police and asked about their plans for the “sensitive date.”