A Hong Kong court has denied bail to a man charged with importing children’s books that were deemed seditious in a high-profile trial last year.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Kurt Leung, a 38-year-old clerk, appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday. He is accused of importing 18 books into the city with the intention of bringing hatred to the Central and Hong Kong government, promoting “feelings of ill-will and enmity” in Hong Kong, and inciting violence.

The books were three copies each of The Guardians of Sheep Village, The Twelve Warriors of Sheep Village, The Street Cleaners of Sheep Village, Voting Day in Sheep Village, The Architects of Sheep Village and Sheep Village Daily.

According to local media reports, the books were mailed from the UK. Leung was arrested in March this year along with a 50-year-old man but had previously been on bail.

The publications are part of a series of children’s books that was at the centre of a sedition trial in July last year. The books were published by members of a pro-democracy speech therapists’ union. Prosecutors alleged they had conspired to promote separatism and incite hatred against the government by publishing the series, which depicts Hongkongers as sheep and mainland Chinese forces as wolves.

The five speech therapists – who pleaded not guilty – were convicted and jailed for 19 months each, with the judge ruling that the books intended to “brainwash” young readers.

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

Appearing before national security judge Victor So on Wednesday, Leung was taken into custody after his bail application was rejected.

The case marks the first time that a charge relating to the import of seditious publications has been laid. Previously, most charges under the sedition law have been linked to people publishing “seditious words” on social media.

The sedition law, which is separate from the Beijing-imposed national security law, was unused for over half a century until its revival in the aftermath of the 2019 protests and unrest. It was originally introduced by the British colonial government to outlaw hatred of the monarch and the colonial administration.

Since its return, dozens have been arrested under the sedition law. Those convicted over sedition offences face up to two years in prison, a lighter penalty compared to national security law offences which can see defendants jailed for life. But offenders of both face a higher bail threshold and are often remanded in custody after being charged.

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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.