Five former speech therapists in Hong Kong have been found guilty of sedition for publishing children’s books that compared democracy activists to sheep being chased by wolves. This is the latest action against free speech crackdown in the territory.

According to Bloomberg, the two men and three women are both in their 20s. They were arrested in July for publishing three books that incited hatred or contempt towards the Hong Kong government and justice system. They were detained before a Saturday reading program for children and held for a year without bail.

The speech therapists union published a book called “Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village.” In it, cartoon animals ran away from a group of wolves but were caught at sea and sent to jail.

The situation is the same as when 12 activists from Hong Kong tried to escape to Taiwan but were caught by the Chinese coast guard. They were on a desperate journey seeking freedom. When they were about to have it, the infamous police came and brought a shadow upon their future. They were caught and imprisoned. 

The real names and profile pictures of a dozen activists in the form of sheep are listed on one page of the book.

In another book, medical worker unionists shown as sheep are staging a high-profile strike early in the pandemic to pressure the government to close the border with mainland China.

They could get up to two years in prison for the crime. This is the maximum sentence for offense in colonial-era.  All five pleaded not guilty and will appeal the verdict.

According to Financial Times, lawyers of the therapists had said that the crime they were charged with was unconstitutional because it goes against their freedom of expression, speech, and publication.

Thomas E Kellogg is executive director of the Centre for Asian Law at Georgetown University. 

He said that the speech therapists’ case represented “a significant expansion of the category of seditious speech . . . [as it] criminalises speech that comments indirectly on politics”.

Kellogg added that “for peaceful artistic or literary speech with a political tinge,” the possible sentence of two years in prison is “pretty stiff.”

This case has been seen as another sign that the financial hub is losing its freedoms, all since Beijing passed a broad national security law in 2020 after huge pro-democracy protests the year before. The Hong Kong courts are getting tougher and tougher on democracy activists.

In its fight against dissent, Hong Kong has put a lot of journalists, politicians, and people from civil society in jail and put pressure on the lawyers defending them. 

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