It is the first time a seditious publications case has gone to trial since the 2019 protests and the imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing in 2020, which officials said was vital to restore stability.
One the group’s lawyers estimated that the five could be out in 31 days once deductions were made, including the 13 months they spent in jail awaiting trial.
Acknowledging they could soon leave prison, Judge Kwok asked the five “when you would leave the prison of your own mind”.
Lai’s mitigation was interrupted by Kwok, who said “the court is not a place to make political speech”.
“Everyone has the freedom of expression, but that does not equal absolute freedom,” he said.
Before being stopped, Lai had said the core issue of the trial was freedom of speech and “freedom with limitations is not freedom”.
Defendant Yeung quoted US civil rights leader Martin Luther King saying “a riot is the language of the unheard”.
“I don’t regret my choice, and I hope I can always stand on the side of the sheep,” Yeung said.
Judge Kwok said in his verdict that “children will be led into the belief that the PRC Government is coming to Hong Kong with the wicked intention of taking away their home and ruining their happy life with no right to do so at all,” referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The defendants were members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which Judge Kwok said “was clearly set up for political purposes”.
“The political situation appears to be calm on the surface but very volatile underneath,” Kwok said, describing the situation in Hong Kong after the national security law.