National Security Police in Hong Kong on Thursday said they arrested five members of a union of speech therapists over a series of children’s books depicting ‘seditious’ sheep, which authorities said showed support for the 2019 protest movement and ‘incited hatred’ towards the city government.
The two men and three women, aged 25 to 28, all members of the General Union of Speech-Language Pathologists in Hong Kong, were arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” in connection with three books by pictures for children titled ‘The Guardians of the Sheep Village’, ‘The Garbage Collectors of the Sheep Village’ and ‘The 12 Heroes of the Sheep Village’.
National Security Police seized around 550 children’s books, flyers, computers and cellphones in a morning raid on the union, arresting the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer and freezing the $160,000 HK of organization assets.
Chief Superintendent Steve Li said the sheep were meant to represent protesters who fought back against riot police in 2019 and portrayed authorities as wolves, ‘beautifying bad behavior’ and ‘poisoning’ the impressionable minds of people. children.
One book describes wolves as dirty and sheep as clean, while another praises the actions of heroic sheep who use their horns to fight back despite their peaceful nature, Li said.
Police said more arrests were likely to follow.
Wong Nai-yun, head of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU), told RFA that the riotous sheep case showed that even metaphors were no longer safe from Chinese Communist Party repression ( CCP) in power against speech crimes in Hong Kong under the national security law imposed on the city July, 1st2020.
“If even metaphors are banned now, then no one will be able to read [George Orwell’s classic political allegory] … Animal Farm,” Wong said.
“But the national security police keep moving the red lines, so there is less and less room for public expression by citizens,” he said. “In such circumstances, we never know exactly where the red lines will be.”
“All we can do is keep doing what we think is right,” Wong said.
Fighting a cover-up
Superintendent Li said the books had “made it very clear” that they were referring to the 2019 protest movement and that Animal Farm “did not incite hatred of the government”.
A spokeswoman for the speech-language pathologists’ union who gave only the nickname Melody said the union had hoped to leave a public record of the 2019 protests that would be accessible to young children, to counter a wave of CCP propaganda that is currently taught in schools. as part of the government’s “national security education” campaign.
“We didn’t know how long this hiding of the truth about the anti-extradition movement would last, so we wanted to record something for this age group,” Melody said.
“That way they could understand what happened; children have a right to know these things,” she said. “They are also part of society, and they will be responsible for that in the future.”
The CTU said the case sounded “the death knell for creative artistic freedom” in Hong Kong.
“Todaya children’s book is defined as seditious. tomorrowall metaphors…could be interpreted as seditious words, and everyone in society is nervous,” the union said in a statement reported by state broadcaster RTHK.
“It also explains why many creators censor themselves, pulling their works from shelves. The case again shows how the law is simply being used by authorities to sow fear,” he said.
In 2015, Leung Chun-ying, then Hong Kong’s chief executive, called on Hong Kongers to “be more like sheep” following the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
In a New Year’s message on the first day of the Year of the Goat, also translated as the Year of the Ram or the Sheep, Leung said the previous year had been “ridden with differences” as thousands demonstrators camped out on major highways during a campaign for universal suffrage in 2017.
“Last year was not easy for Hong Kong. Our society was plagued by differences and conflicts,” said Leung, who was caricatured as a wolf by protesters in 2014.
“In the coming year, I hope all Hong Kong people will be inspired by the character of the sheep and unite in an accommodating way to work for the future of Hong Kong,” he said. declared. He described sheep as “widely regarded as gentle, kind animals living peacefully in groups”.
Rapid deterioration of rights
Dozens of former members of LegCo’s pro-democracy camp have been arrested in recent months, either for public order offenses related to peaceful protests during the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement, or under of the National Security Law, which prohibits peaceful peace. political opposition and public criticism of the authorities.
Observers told RFA that changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system imposed on the city by the CCP since the law came into effect have set the city’s political life back decades, to the era colonial pre-reform in the mid-twentieth century.
Rule changes mean opposition candidates are very unlikely to be allowed to run, but even when candidates do enter the race they will now be chosen by a small number of voters compared to the system previous.
Under the “one country, two systems” terms of the 1997 transfer agreement, Hong Kong was promised the maintenance of its traditional freedoms of speech, association and expression, as well as progress towards fully democratic elections and a separate legal jurisdiction.
But plans to authorize extradition to mainland China sparked a citywide mass movement in 2019 that has broadened to demand fully democratic elections and an independent investigation into police brutality.
Rights groups and foreign governments have denounced the rapid deterioration of human rights protections since the imposition of the national security law.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials said the law was needed to deal with an attempt by foreign powers to foment a “color revolution” in Hong Kong.
Its sweeping provisions allowed China’s fearsome state security police to establish headquarters in Hong Kong, granted police sweeping powers to search private property and demand the removal of public content, and criminalized criticism of the city government and Beijing authorities.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.