A reflection on the eve of sentencing by Man Ling Lai, Former Chairperson of the General Union of the Hong Kong Speech Therapists 

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Man-ling Lai, the former Chairperson of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, was sentenced to 19 month in jail after convicted of sedition over publishing children’s book.

She has prepared the below petition letter and planned to read out in the court on 10 September, 2022 before the court handed down the sentencing. The judge interrupted her speech saying the speech was a “political declaration”.

by Man-ling Lai

(Translated from the Chinese version)

Today is 7 September. Three more days until the sentencing. I would like to share my reflections on the case. The five-day trial and the 13 long months of remand have been inspiring. The whole trial can be concluded with one question: “How free is freedom of speech?”

On one hand, it asks how free we are, and whether freedom has boundaries. On the other, it asks whether free speech comes with a cost. What is the price of free speech?

The prosecution believes that national security is a prerequisite for free speech. However, is restricted freedom still freedom? The prosecution even cited extreme examples of terrorism to justify the need to restrict freedom of speech.

For me, even if there are restrictions on freedom, they should not be political red lines. I will defend your right to speak, even if I disagree with your views. Even though we come from different standpoints, and I cannot understand your point of view, we can agree to disagree – but not to silence people with a crime. Historians could have different perspectives on reading a historical event. They could have various interpretations. However, a single correct interpretation does not exist.

The children’s book uses the metaphor of sheep and wolves to illustrate facts. What is the so-called “correct view of history”? A story is meaningful when 100 readers come up with 100 interpretations, none of which is the model answer. A story fails if it has only one interpretation, because then it fails to stimulate the reader’s imagination.

You can put us on a trial, but you cannot judge what had happened in 2019.

This case today is not prosecuting just the five people standing here, but the social movement in 2019 and the core values that have supported the social movement, including democracy, human rights, and justice.

If we still believe the rule of law is not dead, and that we have chosen to debate in the court to break and push back the boundaries to free speech, we must also remember that Hong Kong’s Basic Law protects our human rights, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the freedom from fear.

The law should be the shield to safeguard the people, not a weapon for the regime to target dissidents. When freedom of speech only applies to telling a “good” Hong Kong story but not a “true” Hong Kong story, is that really freedom of speech?

I knew my case had no chance of winning. I knew it from the day I was arrested. I could get a one-third reduction of my sentence if I plead guilty. But I have chosen not to. I firmly believe in what I said, and I am willing to pay the price of exercising my freedom of speech. I am standing firm, even as I am going to lose this case. And I lose with no regret.

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