Melody Yeung, the former Vice-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 written the below petition letter in the court on 10 September 2022.
by Melody Yeung
(Translated from the Chinese version)
As a defendant who chose not to plead guilty, I decided to dismiss my lawyer and make my own case after five days of trial. I am puzzled by the fact that my defence could only be done under this established legal framework.
Rather than a trial of whether the five people in front of the court “spread rumours” and conducted seditious acts, this case trial had a “correct” view of history.
Athens could try Socrates, but not philosophy. Galileo may have been tried in Rome, but not heliocentrism. In history, there is no “absolute”, but only pluralism; there is no “correct” answer, but only what can withstand repeated verifications. One could be in power, but one cannot claim to have the right view of history; take the Cultural Revolution [in China] as an example.
Whether these three children’s books truly reflect the sentiment in Hong Kong and faithfully record recent history from the people’s perspective, or whether they are “seditious”, only the people’s hearts can judge.
This trial has exemplified the tension between individual freedoms and the survival of a regime. States and governments are, at their core, a collection of individuals. The only difference between them and ordinary people is that they wield political power.
If national security is synonymous with the ruling group’s security and does not respect individual freedoms, the seemingly calm and peaceful society is merely a mirage reflecting people’s dread.
Countless Hongkongers were injured, hit, and shot as they worked one after another to change the unequal distribution of political power. Yet, the system became more biased.
We, the five defendants, have been remanded in custody for more than a year in the name of the law. Fortunately, or perhaps not, we have met many courageous people in jail.
Here, I want to share a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr. that we cite in our union’s establishment manifesto: “a riot is the language of the unheard”.
Throughout history, thousands of rebels have been imprisoned, tortured, or executed in the name of the law. Those are the times when law and justice can only be sought through an alternative avenue, until the law and the system can protect each and every one. This is the moral duty we must accept.
And this is the intent of publishing the picture books: to point out that the sheep in the story are doing the right thing. The picture books, rather than directly and indirectly inciting so-called violence or hatred, are meant to stop violence – the system’s violence.
An amendment to the sedition laws was passed back in 1996, and the text in the legal clauses remains vague (as the amendment was not adopted). The level of free speech protection under today’s law falls 26 years short of the amendment suggested at the time. Top officials in Hong Kong said it simply takes common sense to understand the legal text of the sedition law. Or, in Your Honour’s words, it only takes personal experience. Their common sense has also fallen behind by 26 years. Behind the flamboyant legal language is an attempt to suppress dissent. When the regime convicts a citizen of a speech crime, invisible red lines are cast over every Hongkonger and woven into every social fabric.
As the prisoners of thought crime and political crime soar in numbers, a sequence of political offences no longer applies to just a “small group of people”, like these three picture books and five defendants. Civil society is anxious and self-censored, paving the way to regression in intellectual pursuits and civilisation.
The roles of the sheep and the wolf in the story are interchangeable. It is up to each one of us to choose to be the sheep or the wolf. I do not regret my choice. I am willing to stand up for the sheep all along, from the beginning to the end. I only regret not publishing more picture books before I was arrested, and I lament not being more insistent on the quality of the books.