In the news | Hong Kong Speech therapists jailed for 19 months over children book set poor precedent for free speech

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General Union of Hong Kong Speech Theraphists

Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor’s Managing Director, Cho-Ming Lam, spoke to Biresh Banerjee from Deutsche Welle on the Hong Kong five speech therapists’ case on 12 September.  

National security has become a very central idea in prosecuting this speech therapists.

Ming Lam

Ming Lam said despite being taken aback by the length of the prison term handed down by the court, he feared that political prosecutions as such has become a norm in civil society suppression by authorities in Hong Kong. 

On 10 September 2022, five speech therapists, Man-ling Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Tsz-ho Fong from the now disbanded General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, were found guilty of “conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display and/or reproduce seditious publications” and sentenced to 19 months in prison over three children’s books deemed criticizing the government. The five were also the union organisers of the HKGUST.

One of the very disturbing ideas coming from the verdict was that restriction on the freedom of expression was not about whether the book incite any kind of violence, but alluding hatred against the government. 

Ming Lam

In the judgment, the judge emphasized that in order to protect national security, it is necessary to restrict freedom of speech and publication with “seditious” laws. “The Hong Kong and Chinese Governments are now using national security as a concept and pretext to suppress the civil society as well as the right to freedom of expression.” Lam further argued these children’s books are simply “alluding the Hong Kong Government is an oppressor to innocent people, and it is simply an expression of opinion on how one sees the government is treating the people. The sentence has set a very bad example for any kind of publication in future to make comments and opinions on how one sees the government.” 

The HKLRM reiterates that international law and human rights standards clearly state that the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression should not be considered a threat to national security, or subjected to any restrictions or penalties. Among them, the Johannesburg Principles set out a series of examples that clearly state that as long as the method of expression is peaceful, even if the content constitutes criticism of, or insult to, the nation, the state or its symbols, the government, its agencies, or public officials, or advocates non-violent change of government policy or the government itself, should not be deemed as a threat to national security. 

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