A former Hong Kong leader has urged police in the UK to investigate the organisers behind a planned event involving children’s books that were the subject of a sedition trial in the city last year.

cy Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying. File photo: European Business Summit, via Flickr.

Leung Chun-ying said in a Facebook post on Sunday that “all in the UK should be made aware of the fact that ‘Sheep Village’ is illegal,” referring to the book series that a local judge said were capable of “brainwashing” young readers.

“UK police please investigate,” the former Hong Kong leader wrote in Chinese.

Organised by UK-based groups of Hongkongers, the event was scheduled to be held in the southern English town of Guildford last Saturday, according to a promotional poster. A local church, the Guildford Baptist Church, was meant to host the organisers. But it backed out of the agreement shortly before, saying first that it clashed with a bank holiday and later that they were not aware previously that the event was “in relation to the Sheep Village Day Camp.”

The organisers shared screenshots of the emails from the church on Facebook.

“Our church community is made up of people from many nationalities, and whilst we do understand some of the underlying issues tackled by the Sheep Village books, we are mindful of the wider impact on our community,” one email read.

The organisers said they had earlier signed documents and received official confirmation from the church that it would loan out their space for the event. Due to the last minute cancellation, they were unable to find an alternative venue and had no choice but to cancel the event, they added.

HKFP has reached out to the Guildford Baptist Church for comment.

‘Transnational repression’

The books, published by a defunct pro-democracy union of speech therapists, were at the centre of a sedition trial last year. The publications depicted sheep as Hongkongers and wolves as mainland Chinese people, national security police said.

Guildford Baptist Church
Guildford Baptist Church. Photo: Guildford Baptist Church’s Facebook page.

Five people were jailed for 19 months last September after being found guilty of conspiring to print, publish, distribute and display the children’s books with seditious intent. Two defendants later filed an appeal to challenge their conviction. The court has yet to fix a date for the hearing.

The UK event, organised by three groups – Hongkongers in Britain, Kongtinue and Team Sheep Village 2.0 – was named “Justice Education Day Camp.” According to the promotional poster, participants could learn about current issues in Hong Kong society and the impact of injustice.

sedition sheep
A page from a picture book produced by the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the organisations said in a joint statement that they were “appalled at attempts to silence events on justice, civil liberty and human rights.”

They said it had come to their attention that Leung had “openly encouraged his followers to file reports to the UK police against lawful educational events in bad faith.”

In response, they said it called on the public “not to be complicit in transnational repression instigated by authoritarian states.”

The organisers added that diversity was “one of the core values of the UK,” and that the freedom of expression of “dissidents” should be respected as long as they observed UK laws.

“If this development is allowed to thrive, more songs, pictures, books and films about the human rights situation in Hong Kong will be effectively censored in the UK,” they wrote.

Sedition is not covered by the Beijing-imposed national security law, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts and mandates up to life imprisonment. Those convicted under the sedition law – last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still a British colony – face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.