With the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong more than two years ago, it is hard to imagine that a group of education-related professionals could have published, between June 2020 and March last year, a book series purporting to mount a “brainwashing exercise” and indoctrinating children with “separatist ideology”. On the surface, the books depict the story of “a village of sheep” that was forced to defend itself against a group of “intruding wolves” after the departure of “the shepherd”.
Judge Kwok Wai-kin ruled last week that the book series had unmistakable insinuations that Beijing ruined Hong Kong residents’ “happy life” after the British aggressors returned the occupied territory to China 25 years ago. The five defendants, all in their late 20s, were leaders of the now-defunct General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. They were found guilty of inciting antagonism and fostering separatism by publishing children’s books hinting at social events in the anti-extradition protests in 2019.
In his sentencing of the case, Judge Kwok, after hearing that between June 2020 and July 2021 the five defendants published three books about “sheep” and “wolves” that would, given time, engender burning animosity against the government and the judiciary, remarked that the storybooks in question targeted children as young as 4. They construe the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as a village of “good sheep” and the central authorities as an ugly intruder of the territory. According to the judge, this grossly distorted and demonized portrayal could vastly misguide juvenile readers into accepting the defendants’ sermon that Hong Kong and its motherland were totally unrelated to each other, and that the central government was doing something “illegal or illegitimate” when China resumed exercising its sovereignty over the city. The judge went further to say that, gauging from what the defendants had done deliberately involving youngsters aged 4 and above, they were in effect attempting with intent to press into the children’s immature minds their assertions and values that would dislocate them from the emotional ties with their own country and their otherwise indissoluble apprehension that Hong Kong is an integral part of China.
The judge adjudicating the sedition case lamented that the authors of the book series sought to hide the whole truth from the reading public at large, including the vital issues of national security and China’s full jurisdiction over the territory of the HKSAR. He believed that the books could plant “seeds of hatred and fear in children’s minds”, and concluded that the defendants distributing such reading materials through varied channels for free was “an act of sedition”. He called into question if the five speech therapists had “really put the true records of events” in their storybooks and the truth before the children. The judge emphasized that children should be taught to love their country and homeland wholeheartedly. In his judgment, in the same way that no one in Europe could deny the existence of the Holocaust, nobody here in Hong Kong could rely on “freedom of speech” to deny the fact that the city is an inalienable part of China.
In the course of hearing mitigation appeals from the defendants, the judge had to exercise his judicial authority to halt the die-hard political representations from two appellants, a gesture that is deemed prohibitive in the law courts. Lai Man-ling was the first defendant to have been broken off in her “political statements” mitigating a punishment. Questioning if “freedom with restraints truly qualified as freedom”, she was advised by Judge Kwok that she could file a legal bid in the event of finding the court decision unacceptable. Meanwhile, the judge also stalled Melody Yeung Yat-yee’s mitigation, after she disclosed to the court her lack of remorse for siding with “the sheep”, and her “sole repentance” in the seditious offense for not publishing more such books and of a higher quality prior to being rounded up by the law enforcement agencies! In effect, Yeung seemed to have behaved contemptuously in court by releasing deliberately such mitigation remarks before the judge!
Concurrently serving as a national security judge for the HKSAR, Kwok held that the five defendants are the HKSAR’s elites, and he expressed overtly hopes that the five education-relevant professionals could “break free from the cage that imprisoned their minds”, and clearly understand and recognize the correct constitutional order and relationship between the city and the Chinese mainland. He further queried the five defendants for claiming their right to reject China’s “indisputable” sovereignty over the HKSAR, and in this way misdirect schoolchildren to accept such a misbelief forged by the small team of speech therapists.
In determining the sentence, the judge adopted a starting point of 21 months’ imprisonment and adjusted the jail term to 19 months for all five defendants after considering their cooperation and clear records.
It is worth close public attention that the judicial judgment in this criminal offense carries far-reaching impact on children and should be studied carefully by schools and education authorities. Not only does the case fall under a criminal nature but also its provocative and detracting effects on the local youngsters’ proper sense of national identity and security have all come into vital play in this crucial offense. Schools and parents, aided by guidance from the education officials, must be able to identify the willful but appealing reading materials devised for their sons and daughters by people with ulterior motives, and teach them how to tell right from wrong in this regard. Meanwhile, systematic public education and monitoring should be put in place to ensure that nobody could take any chances in committing such offenses. This is especially important when one remembers the recent advice by Security Secretary Chris Tang Ping-keung that the city’s residents must not let their guard down on some external forces seeking to create issues by demonizing the HKSAR’s human rights situation to embarrass and attack China. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Amnesty International has been quick in linking this sedition offense to an alleged and ungrounded derailment of the HKSAR’s human rights progress.
The author is the chairman of the Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS