Date of plea: 2022-09-10
Mitigation plea excerpt
Law should be the shield to protect the people, not a weapon used by the regime against dissidents. Can freedom with limitations be called as freedom? I firmly believe in what I said, and I am willing to pay the price for exercising my freedom of speech. I lose with no regret.
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Lorie Lai Man-ling is the former leader of the disbanded trade union General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. Five of the union activists, including Lai, were all sentenced on 2022-09-10 to serve 19 months behind bars. They were found guilty of sedition, a colonial era law that the British stopped applying 50 years ago, which is 25 years before Hong Kong was handed over to the mainland.
The five speech therapists had published children’s books with stories of wolves and lambs. At the time of sentencing, Lorie had been detained for more than a year. Hong Kong used to practice bailing conditions for nearly all before the National Security Law took precedence over provisions in the original mini-constitution Basic Law.
Mitigation plea in full:
“How free is freedom of speech?”
On one hand it asks how free we are – whether freedom has boundaries; on the other it asks does free speech come without cost – What is the price of free speech?
The prosecution believes 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 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. But it does not exist a correct interpretation.
The children’s book used 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 could come up with 100 interpretations, of which none is the model answer. A story fails if it only has one interpretation – It fails to stimulate the reader’s imagination.
This case today is not just prosecuting five people standing here, but the social movement in 2019 and the core values that have supported the social movement – democracy, human rights, justice etc.
You can put us on trial. But you cannot judge what has happened in 2019.
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 the Hong Kong Basic Law protects our human rights, including the freedom of speech, to publish, and the freedom from fear.
Law should be the shield to protect the people, not a weapon used by the regime against dissidents. When freedom of speech only applies to telling a “good” Hong Kong story but not a “true” Hong Kong story, is that freedom of speech at all?
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 for 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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This mitigation plea was translated to English and made available by HK Labour Rights Monitor, published here.
The portrait was published by Reuters’ correspondent Jessie Pang on Twitter.