Five arrested over 'hatred-inciting' children's books

Top News | Sophie Hui 23 Jul 2021

Five unionists have been arrested by the national security police for publishing picture books that allegedly incite children to hate the government.

The three books included one about 12 brave Sheep defending their village, which police saw as representing the 12 Hongkongers caught by mainland coast guards as they attempted to flee to Taiwan.

The three Chinese-language books are entitled Guardians of the Sheep Village, 12 Warriors of the Sheep Village and Scavengers of the Sheep Village. Video versions can be seen on YouTube, while the books can be read on the internet.

The five arrested - three women and two men from 25 to 28 - are officers of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists.

Arrested yesterday morning under the Crimes Ordinance on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious material were union chairwoman Lorie Lai Man-ling, vice-chairwoman Melody Yeung Yat-yee, secretary Sidney Ng Hau-yee, treasurer Samuel Chan Yuen-sum and committee member Marco Fong Tsz-ho.

Police, who also froze HK$160,000 of union assets, said further arrests could be made.

Officers searched homes and offices as well as the union's office in Hunghom Commercial Centre and seized 550 children's story books linked to the case, leaflets, computers and mobile phones.

Police national security department senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said after the arrests that the three Sheep picture books published between last June and March and the stories featured backgrounds linked to social unrest in 2019.

They included the 12 Hong Kong runaways and medical workers who went on strike to demand authorities shut the border early last year due to the pandemic.

Li said the books aimed "to poison the minds of children" - the targets were aged from four to seven, he claimed - with seditious content that bred hatred against the government and the justice system. There was also incitement to violence, he said.

"This Sheep village series used children's comics to [describe] political issues, which children cannot understand," Li went on. "It simplified and glorified some illegal behavior."

The arrested, he said, "used their professional identity and trust [from children and parents] to instill claims which are biased, rebellious, confrontational and anti-government. This is appalling."

But the democratic Confederation of Trade Unions, describing the therapists as a "friendly group," said in a statement the arrests were intended to "spread terror."

It added: "Today, children's books are defined as seditious. Tomorrow, any metaphors and acrostic poems could be read as seditious and everyone in society will be deterred by danger."

Li also asked whether by teaching children that "white is black and black is white what will they grow up into? They may end up having criminal intentions."

He noted one book describes how wolves want to occupy the sheep village and eat all of the sheep there.

His reading: "The wolves actually mean mainland people while the sheep are local people, and the sheep use their horns to attack. Sheep are very kind animals, but they are described as having the ability to attack, which represents violent incidents."

The story alluding to the 12 runaways, Li said, suggested someone was killed while in custody, which was not true at all.

And the book based on the medical workers' strike early last year suggested mainlanders carried the virus to Hong Kong with the line that "the sheep are very clean and the wolves are very dirty."

To gauge the intentions of the books, Li said, police had sought expert opinions. That led to comparisons with the anti-fugitive bill protests.

There was also guidance to parents for them to read the books with their children, Li added.

The union also held a book-sharing session with parents and children last month, he said, and a police operation was conducted ahead of another sharing session set for this coming Sunday.

Asked whether the printers of the books also breached the law, Li said police need to investigate if they printed the books knowing what was behind them.

Li also urged parents and distributors to throw away the books.

People are allowed to criticize the government, he said, but publications must not have a seditious intent to incite hatred against the government.

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