Hong Kong court finds five guilty of sedition over sheep books | Politics News

The 5 will likely be sentenced on Saturday and face so long as two years in jail for publishing books that sought to clarify the democracy motion to youngsters.

A Hong Kong courtroom has discovered 5 speech therapists responsible of sedition over a sequence of illustrated youngsters’s books that portrayed town’s democracy supporters as sheep defending their village from wolves.

Prosecutors alleged the three image books, which sought to clarify Hong Kong’s pro-democracy motion to children, unfold “separatism”, and stirred up ‘”hatred” and opposition to the federal government.

Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Marco Fong, aged between 25 and 28 and all members of a speech therapists union, had pleaded not responsible.

They selected to not testify during the trial or summon any witnesses when proceedings started in July.

Their attorneys argued that the sedition offence was vaguely outlined and that every reader must be allowed to make up their very own thoughts about what the characters within the books symbolize.

Additionally they warned {that a} responsible verdict would additional criminalise political criticism and have a chilling impact on society.

It’s the first time that the case of a seditious publication has gone to trial because the protests that rocked the territory in 2019 and Beijing’s imposition of a national security law the next yr. The sedition regulation, which dates from colonial occasions, had not been used since 1967 earlier than it was revived within the wake of the mass protests.

The fees relate to 3 books geared toward youngsters aged between 4 and 7 years outdated: The Guardians of Sheep Village, The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village, and The Rubbish Collectors of Sheep Village.

Their plots relate to a number of real-life occasions, together with the 2019 protests, a failed attempt by a gaggle of 12 protesters to flee to Taiwan by speedboat, and a strike by medical staff at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic calling for Hong Kong to seal its border with China.

In a written abstract launched on Wednesday, District Court docket Choose Kwok Wai Kin stated all three books had been seditious, not merely from the phrases “however from the phrases with the proscribed results meant within the thoughts of the kids”.

Three illustrated children's books featuring sheep characters on their covers held by senior superintendent Steve Li of the national security police.
Senior Superintendent Steve Li, from Hong Kong’s nationwide safety police unit, holds the kids’s books that police stated had been seditious [File: Daniel Suen/AFP]

“They are going to be advised that the truth is, they’re the sheep, and the wolves who’re making an attempt to hurt them are the PRC (Individuals’s Republic of China) Authorities and the Hong Kong Authorities,” wrote Kwok, who’s on a panel of nationwide safety judges chosen by town’s chief.

The 5 will likely be sentenced on Saturday. The sedition regulation carries a sentence of as much as two years in jail.

In an announcement in response to the decision, Amnesty Worldwide’s China campaigner Gwen Lee described the conviction as an “absurd instance of the disintegration of human rights within the metropolis.

“Writing books for youngsters will not be a criminal offense, and making an attempt to coach youngsters about current occasions in Hong Kong’s historical past doesn’t represent an try to incite rise up.”

Earlier than the imposition of the safety regulation, Hong Kong loved appreciable freedom of expression and was dwelling to a vibrant media and publishing business.

However the sweeping crackdown within the wake of the 2019 protests has compelled many shops to shut, together with the vastly widespread tabloid Apple Daily, whereas books have been faraway from libraries, and college curriculums had been rewritten to incorporate lessons on the security law for youngsters as younger as six.

Many professional-democracy activists and politicians are both in jail, awaiting trial or have fled overseas, and dozens of civil society teams, together with a number of commerce unions, have closed down.

Solely individuals deemed “patriots” are allowed to carry workplace in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong under heavy security as city marks handover | Hong Kong Protests News

Chinese language chief Xi Jinping arrived in metropolis on Thursday to attend anniversary and swear in new chief John Lee.

Hong Kong police have been out in power on Friday as the previous British colony ready to mark 25 years since its return to China in a ceremony presided over by Chinese language President Xi Jinping.

Xi arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to attend the anniversary and swear in new pleader John Lee, a former safety chief chosen in Might by a small committee of electors managed by Beijing.

Celebrations have been muted throughout an annual flag elevating ceremony within the morning as the town was hit by heavy rain and powerful winds from a close-by storm.

Xi didn’t attend the early morning occasion however spent the evening throughout the border in Shenzhen. The Chinese language chief is anticipated to return afterward Friday to swear in Lee.

The journey is Xi’s first exterior mainland China because the COVID-19 pandemic started and his first journey to Hong Kong since 2017, when he swore within the metropolis’s outgoing chief Carrie Lam.

Indicators proclaiming a brand new period of “stability, prosperity, and alternative” have been erected round Hong Kong for the event, however many residents imagine the town is shedding its distinct lifestyle as Beijing cracks down on virtually all shows of dissent.

Below the phrases of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese language sovereignty in 1997, Beijing promised to grant the town a excessive diploma of autonomy and protect political rights and freedoms not discovered on the mainland till at the least 2047 – an association often called “one nation, two programs.”

However because the imposition of a draconian nationwide safety regulation in June 2020, authorities have virtually worn out the town’s as soon as boisterous pro-democracy motion and compelled the closure of dozens of civil society organisations and media retailers.

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask waves a flag during a Human Rights Day march, organised by the Civil Human Right Front, in Hong Kong, China December 8, 2019.
Beijing launched a draconian nationwide safety regulation in Hong Kong following mass pro-democracy protests in 2019 [File: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

In years previous, July 1 noticed massive demonstrations by Hong Kongers protesting infringements on their political rights and autonomy by Beijing.

This yr marks the primary time no public actions can be held, following an identical ban on occasions to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath on June 4.

Nationwide safety police arrested 9 individuals over the previous week and searched the homes of members of the League of Social Democrats, certainly one of Hong Kong’s few remaining opposition teams.

The group was additionally informed by police to not protest and have reportedly been adopted.

The crackdown is anticipated to proceed beneath Lee, certainly one of a number of Hong Kong officers sanctioned by america for undermining the town’s autonomy and democratic rights.

As Hong Kong’s former safety chief, Lee has been instrumental within the crackdown on opposition figures. His upcoming cupboard consists of 4 different high-ranking officers beneath sanctions.

Lee is anticipated to introduce extra laws to curb dissent in Hong Kong, together with a neighborhood nationwide safety regulation.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lamented the modifications which have taken place within the metropolis.

“We made a promise to the territory and its individuals and we intend to maintain it, doing all we will to carry China to its commitments,” he stated.

In america, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed issues over the “erosion of autonomy” within the metropolis, saying: “We stand in solidarity with individuals in Hong Kong and reinforce their calls for his or her promised freedoms to be reinstated.”

Xi insisted on Thursday that “one nation, two programs” would assure “long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong.“

Hong Kong GDP falls more than expected as COVID curbs bite | Business and Economy

Economic system shrinks 4 % within the January-to-March interval from a yr earlier, in keeping with advance estimates.

Hong Kong’s financial system contracted final quarter for the primary time in additional than a yr as native restrictions to curb Covid hit exercise and China’s personal omicron outbreak disrupted commerce.

Gross home product fell 4% within the January-to-March interval from a yr earlier, in keeping with advance estimates launched by the federal government on Tuesday. The quantity — Hong Kong’s first because the finish of 2020 — was far worse than a median estimate of a 1.3% contraction in a Bloomberg survey. It was additionally the largest contraction because the third quarter of 2020.

Town confronted “immense stress” within the first quarter of 2022, a authorities spokesperson was quoted as saying in a launch from the Census and Statistics Division accompanying the information. Town’s fifth coronavirus wave, together with moderating world demand progress and “epidemic-induced cross boundary transportation disruptions,” all dragged on the financial system, the particular person stated.

Forward of the information, there have been indicators of deep financial injury within the first three months of the yr, with retail gross sales collapsing greater than 14% in February and exports plunging 8.9% in March. Town imposed strict social restrictions through the quarter — together with a ban on dining-in after 6 p.m. and shutting gyms and sweetness salons — to battle a coronavirus wave that killed hundreds and contaminated greater than 1 million folks.

“This reveals how non-public consumption, retail gross sales and the pandemic in China have hit progress,” stated Samuel Tse, an economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd in Hong Kong. Tse had forecast a 1.2% contraction due to a low base of comparability with the primary quarter of final yr.

The Asian finance hub is now slowly beginning to reopen, which means the first-quarter stoop might mark the low level within the progress cycle. On Tuesday, the government accelerated reopening plans, and will on Thursday allow eight people to eat together, up from four previously, together with different easing measures. Two weeks later, dining-in hours will likely be prolonged from 10 p.m. till midnight, Chief Government Carrie Lam stated at a briefing.

Nonetheless, a lot will depend upon China’s personal outbreak and Covid controls, which have made it tough to move items to and from the mainland. Exports from Hong Kong to China dropped 12.8% in March from a yr in the past, in keeping with official figures.

Commerce disruptions from China and weak exterior demand might linger for at the very least the subsequent month, Tse stated, including that he expects one other contraction within the second quarter.

‘Not a businessman’: Hong Kong’s next chief faces test on economy | Coronavirus pandemic

Hong Kong, China – Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, John Lee, has likened himself to a conductor with the flexibility to steer a “new symphony” for the worldwide monetary hub.

Lee, who’s working unopposed as the one “validly nominated candidate” in a tightly-controlled, small-circle election on Could 8, has his work reduce out for him.

Lee will inherit a metropolis languishing from two years of political crackdowns and strict pandemic insurance policies, which have fuelled an exodus of highly-skilled professionals and turned the once-thriving worldwide enterprise centre into one of many world’s most remoted cities.

Rolling out his 44-page political manifesto final week, Lee promised to breathe life again into the economic system, sort out town’s housing disaster, curb rising unemployment and strengthen governance.

However any hope of restoring town’s lustre should cope with Beijing’s uncompromising efforts to crush dissent and get rid of COVID-19 below a draconian “dynamic zero COVID” technique.

Beijing’s endorsement of Lee, previously Hong Kong’s quantity two official, has been broadly seen as an indication of China’s prioritisation of security over business. A former safety chief and profession police officer, Lee lacks the enterprise expertise of a few of his predecessors, which embody a property surveyor and a billionaire transport tycoon.

Lee led the response to the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and oversaw the arrests of dozens of individuals below a controversial nationwide safety regulation that has silenced virtually all crucial voices in politics, civil society and media.

Tara Joseph, the previous president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, described it as “flabbergasting” {that a} enterprise hub like Hong Kong will probably be led by somebody with no industrial expertise.

“He could also be a decisive chief. He might make town perform higher. That’s true. However he’s not a businessman. He doesn’t have hyperlinks to enterprise,” Joseph, who’s now senior director of US agency Technique Dangers, informed Al Jazeera. “He has hyperlinks to the safety equipment.”

Joseph, who left Hong Kong partly due to town’s strict pandemic measures, mentioned the “jury’s out” on whether or not Lee or some other chief will probably be allowed to distinguish Hong Kong’s COVID coverage from that of the mainland.

“The longer the dearth of connectivity continues in Hong Kong, the extra hurt it’s doing. We all know how many individuals are leaving. We all know it’s been very dangerous,” she mentioned.

Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong has skilled an exodus of execs after greater than two years of political crackdowns and strict pandemic guidelines [File: Peter Park/AFP]

Professional-Beijing figures insist that Lee’s give attention to safety is not going to come on the expense of the economic system.

Former Finance Minister Frederick Ma mentioned he’s assured Lee will encompass himself with enterprise savvy advisers who will help steer the economic system.

“If you’re chief you depend on folks,” Ma informed Al Jazeera. “He must get succesful folks to assist. And if he manages to get succesful folks and so they work as a staff, I might be optimistic concerning the future. I absolutely have hope.”

Ma mentioned will probably be necessary for the subsequent chief to resolve uncertainty concerning the metropolis’s pandemic technique, which has prioritised reopening the borders with mainland China above the remainder of the world however failed to revive quarantine-free journey with both.

“I believe what’s secret is it’s essential to decide, in case you’re going to open the mainland border, do it, however if you wish to comply with the worldwide method, then do it that method,” he mentioned.

Lee has mentioned Hong Kong should “increase its worldwide connectivity” and “set up a extra beneficial enterprise atmosphere”, whereas additionally emphasising the necessity to reconnect town with the mainland.

Whereas Hong Kong just lately diminished lodge quarantine from 14 to seven days and lifted a ban on the entry of non-residents, the steps are broadly seen as inadequate to carry again worldwide travellers.

“With out opening the borders, Hong Kong will probably be minimising its alternatives for worldwide enterprise growth,” George Cautherley, a Hong Kong-based businessman, informed Al Jazeera. “I don’t assume there’s any various.”

‘Two bosses’

Lee has chosen a 148-strong advisory staff of highly effective businessmen and politicians, together with town’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and leisure tycoon and property developer Allan Zeman.

Zeman mentioned he believes Lee will provoke negotiations with China to discover a strategy to reopen the border with the mainland.

“Lee is results-oriented, and he’s a doer, and he is aware of what must be executed, and I believe popping out of safety, he has a unique [kind of] respect from folks, particularly from Beijing,” Zeman informed Al Jazeera.

“It’s not a straightforward place for anybody,” added Zeman, explaining town is caught between the necessity to reopen to the world and reconnect with the mainland, which is cautious of coronavirus instances coming throughout its land border.

“So you need to negotiate with two bosses.”

Ronny Tong, an adviser to present Chief Govt Carrie Lam, mentioned he additionally believes Lee will sort out Hong Kong’s reopening as a prime precedence.

“So far as the struggle towards COVID-19 and opening the border of Hong Kong once more, I’m positive that is a part of the mandatory path with a purpose to revitalise the economic system of Hong Kong, and I’m positive this might be the primary process that he would attend to if and when he will get elected,” Tong informed Al Jazeera.

Lee has beforehand sought to make the case that he’s not beholden to any enterprise curiosity teams, and due to this fact comes “with out baggage”.

“My major concern is the general curiosity, as a substitute of the curiosity of any sure sector,” he mentioned at a press briefing final month.

A spokesperson on the Hong Kong Common Chamber of Commerce mentioned John Lee “brings a brand new mindset to the administration”.

“Lee has pledged to work along with the general public and enterprise to sort out Hong Kong’s longstanding points, such because the scarcity of housing,” the spokesperson mentioned. “So with a transparent consensus and roadmap, we’re assured town will have the ability to bounce again.”

Hong Kong airport
Hong Kong has turn out to be one of many world’s most remoted cities below China’s ‘dynamic zero COVID’ technique [File: Lam Yik/Reuters]

Jonathan Slone, former Asia chair at Jefferies Group, who’s now a non-public investor, mentioned he sees the economic system turning into “a much bigger and larger focus” below the brand new administration.

“I believe they’ll be fairly sensible,” Slone informed Al Jazeera. “Is the enterprise neighborhood going to get every part it desires? No, however I believe that these guys know that the economic system must get going.”

Others are extra sceptical.

Professional-democracy businessman Herbert Chow mentioned Lee has been given an “inconceivable process” in terms of jumpstarting the economic system.

“We’ll see how he can steadiness that with breaking the cycle of going forwards and backwards, faucet dancing on leisure versus the retightening of COVID guidelines,” Chow informed Al Jazeera.

Chow mentioned he believes most companies “don’t care” about whether or not Lee, who has pledged to introduce extra nationwide safety laws, will speed up the crackdown on dissent.

“I believe a lot of the enterprise neighborhood is not going to care an excessive amount of about how the police restore the connection with residents, or whether or not Hong Kong continues to be a police state,” mentioned Chow, who final 12 months introduced his intention to relocate his youngsters’s clothes model Chickeeduck abroad as a result of strain from the authorities.

Requested whether or not Hong Kong may return to its glory days, Joseph, the previous AmCham president, mentioned town is a “new regular”.

“And I believe folks might want to regulate to that,” she mentioned. “Hong Kong shouldn’t be globally linked in the identical method any extra, so there are dangers with it. It might discover a method out of this mess, however rather more as a metropolis in China.”