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Day 16: January 25, 2024

The Witness: Live Updates | Day 16 of the trial in the case of Jimmy Lai. Cheung Kim-hung: Lai instructed that the English edition should avoid soft news to prevent dilution of its purpose.”

Media mogul Jimmy Lai and three related companies of Apple Daily face charges of “conspiring to collude with foreign forces,” among other offenses. The trial entered its 16th day on Thursday at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court (acting as the High Court). The prosecution’s “accomplice witness,” former executive director of Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung, continued his testimony, focusing on matters related to the content of the English edition of Apple Daily.

Cheung stated that after the launch of the English edition, he suggested to Jimmy Lai the inclusion of travel and dining to diversify the news content. However, Lai opposed the idea, emphasizing that the purpose of the English edition was to select “Yellow-leaning” articles, and the articles supporting Apple Daily to attract foreign attention and opinions. According to Lai, adding such features would “dilute” the intended impact.

Responding to the judges’ inquiry, Cheung confirmed that the editorial direction of the English edition was determined by Lai. He mentioned that often, the owner’s personal style and stance played a significant role, unless the owner was hands-off, and ownership was held through certain funds.

The case is being heard by Judges Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wang-tang, appointed under the National Security Law. The prosecution is represented by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung, and Senior Public Prosecutor Crystal Chan Wing-sum. Jimmy Lai is represented by Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung, Counsel Steven Kwan, and New Zealand barrister Marc Corlett with Hong Kong practicing qualifications.

16:00 Court Adjourned

15:20 Playing Lai’s Interview Program with US Diplomat

The prosecution played another roughly 35-minute long segment of the “Live Q&A with Jimmy Lai” program, aired on July 30, 2020, featuring an interview with US diplomat Raymond Burghardt and former non-executive director of Next Digital, Mark Clifford.

15:10 Lai States that He “Will Never Leave Hong Kong” in the Program

In response to a reporter’s question during the program, Lai was asked if he would consider emigrating. Lai mentioned that the most discussed topic among friends is emigration, but he emphasized, “I will never leave Hong Kong.” He expressed concerns that leaving would be shameful and detrimental to the unity of the democracy movement.

When asked about his vision for the future of Hong Kong, Lai stated that he couldn’t see the future, and that many people are still making money. He expressed, “this city will be empty,” despite an influx of Chinese residents. He noted differences in culture between Chinese and Hong Kong people, emphasizing that Hong Kong shares common values with the free world. However, he predicted a loss of freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, as well as the decline of Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center.

Lai also mentioned that the implementation of the National Security Law would affect media operations. He stressed the need for more subscriptions to the English version of Apple Daily, stating, “So the greater the international readers are reading us, are subscribing to us, the greater protection we have politically.”

Lastly, when asked about his breakfast that morning, Lai mentioned that he skipped breakfast due to being overweight but had a hearty dinner the previous night, prompting laughter from his wife in the courtroom.

15:00 Lai says in his program that the National Security Law Would Replace the Basic Law, Signifying Hong Kong is Becoming more corrupt like China

A 17-minute segment of “Live Q&A with Jimmy Lai” was played, where Lai discussed his views on the National Security Law. Lai emphasized that the National Security Law replacing the Basic Law would jeopardize the rule of law and freedom, stating, “without any protection, it would be endangered.”

Lai further stated that Hong Kong, under the National Security Law, would become corrupt like China. He pointed out that after the law’s implementation, people exchanging messages on social media would be under scrutiny, and individuals wouldn’t know if their conversations with friends could be reported against them.

When asked about the impact of the National Security Law on future protesters, Lai expressed that resistance would become very difficult. He added, “I just hope that those who stay and hold on to it will be strong enough.”

When asked if he felt fear, Lai responded, “I can’t be afraid because if I’m afraid, I won’t be able to say anything, I won’t do anything.”

14:47 Playing Lai’s Interview Program in the Court

The prosecution began playing a live interview program from July 9, 2020, featuring Jimmy Lai.

14:33 Cheung: After his arrest, Lai Directed Apple Daily to Continue Operations and Followed the Original Policies

The prosecution questioned Cheung Kim-hung about the circumstances following Jimmy Lai’s arrest and continued operation of Apple Daily. They mentioned that Lai had been in custody since December 2020.

Cheung confirmed that he visited Lai during his detention and sought advice on how to continue operating Apple Daily. According to Cheung, Lai instructed him, “No need to be afraid, continue as usual, just as before.”

Subsequently, Cheung continued to operate Apple Daily according to the original policy, meaning he continued to implement Lai’s editorial policies, and took charge of the lunchbox meetings. Cheung explained that continuing “as usual” meant ongoing support for the pro-democracy movement, attracting attention from foreign and Western countries, providing assistance. The English edition also continued to operate, selecting articles according to the original guidelines. However, Lai’s programs, “Live Chat,” and the column “Success and Failure with a Laugh” were temporarily suspended. Cheung also conveyed Lai’s instructions to other senior staff, informing them that “Lai remains very determined, so we don’t need to worry.”

By June 2021, Cheung was also arrested and remanded in connection with this case. Cheung mentioned that after being remanded, he did not provide instructions to other senior Apple Daily staff, and he was not aware of who took over his position.

12:38 Lunch Break

12:28 Prosecution Anticipates Completing Main Questioning of Cheung This Week

In court, a message from Yeung Ching-kee to Cheung was displayed: “The president of Taiwan Apple Daily previously informed us that Hong Kong Apple Daily can use articles from Taiwan Apple Daily without payment. They use Hong Kong articles, and there’s no payment either. If Takahashi’s articles want to be published on both sides, the payment may only come from Hong Kong Apple Daily.” The prosecution asked who “Takahashi” is. Cheung indicated that Takahashi is a Japanese person, the author he previously mentioned, recommended for the Apple Daily commentary section.
Cheung further mentioned that Takahashi is acquainted with Jimmy Lai, and he frequently visited Lai. The content of Takahashi’s articles is related to power struggles in the Japanese political arena, and “the position is anti-government, which I think is suitable for Hong Kong Apple Daily.” He also mentioned that the invitation to Takahashi as a contributor did not go through Lai.
The prosecution revealed that they would play segments of Lai’s interview program in the afternoon. When the judge inquired about the progress of the prosecution’s questioning, they stated that they expected to complete the main questioning this week.

12:20 Cheung: Lai Once Instructed not to Pay Fees to Exiled and Wanted Individuals

The prosecution presented a WhatsApp conversation between Cheung Kim-hung and Yeung Ching-kee (Li Ping) on August 3, 2020. Cheung stated, “Ching-kee, the government is listing multiple overseas individuals as wanted, claiming they violated the national security law. If they contribute articles, it’s inconvenient for us to pay them. Of course, the content will still be scrutinized according to the original policy.”

Cheung explained that during a phone call with Jimmy Lai, he inquired about the situation of exiled and wanted individuals contributing to Apple Daily. “ Mr. Lai instructed that we could publish their articles, but if we don’t want to attract attention, we can refrain from paying them. In other words, providing them with a platform to publish their articles is sufficient.” Cheung mentioned that Lai believed they would garner sympathy from the people of Hong Kong and could advocate for Hong Kong abroad.
The prosecution asked why Lai said “refrain from paying them”? Cheung believed Lai meant not to give the impression that Apple Daily was supporting exiled and wanted individuals.

11:33 Court Recess

11:15 Cheung: Lai Believed Protest Movement Needs “Yellow Economic Circle,” Once Promoted “Support Small Shops” Ad Campaign

The prosecution then presented four articles from Apple Daily’s English edition, including “Editorial: Who is Afraid of CCP Sanctions and Oppressions?” published on July 14, 2020; “Will US sanction Carrie Lam?” published on July 18, 2020; “Aversion to Beijing”s bellicose diplomacy is escalating in Europe” published on August 28, 2020; and “Round up of all opposition politicians the HK version of Kaohsiung Incident,” published on January 14, 2021.

The fourth article mentioned, “Hong Kong people should work together to devote ourselves to protecting our civil society, support for prisoners and the ‘yellow economic circle,’”

The prosecution inquired whether Apple Daily supported the “yellow economic circle.” Cheung responded that Lai always believed that “as long as the resistance continued, the “yellow economic circle” needed to exist,” as it benefited the protest movement. Apple Daily had organized activities such as “Support Small Shops.” Cheung recalled that during a police search of his diary, there was a note from Lai reminding him to follow up with the advertising department on matters related to the “Support Small Shops” ads.

Cheung continued to explain that in a meeting with the advertising department in 2019, Lai instructed them to organize the “classified small ads” activity, called “Support Small Shops.” Cheung added that during the intense protest movement in 2019, many Hong Kong people participated, choosing to support shops with a political orientation, forming a “yellow economic circle.” People supporting the protests would avoid patronizing “blue shops” and chain stores affiliated with the establishment. Therefore, in late 2019, Apple Daily planned to organize “Support Small Shops” advertisements, and Lai instructed them to carry out this activity. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, the plan was temporarily suspended and resumed by mid-year, with Apple Daily allowing small shops to advertise for free.

10:40 Cheung: Lai Instructed Not to Include International News in English Edition to Avoid Dilution

The prosecution presented a message from Lai on August 26, 2020, in the group: “Lo Fung, Do we need this kind of news that has nothing to do with China and all major English newspapers have published it? I wondered,” along with a link to an Apple Daily article titled “Republicans say Biden Good for Iran and ISIS. Great for China.”

Fung Wai-kwong (Lo Fung) responded: “I am trying to include a few stories on international news as our readers are from all parts of the world and they may want to know a bit about major news happening around the globe, especially important news like US election.”

Lai later sent a message: “I don’t think this kind of news is needed since wherever they come their local news media should have covered it. I rather think that we should focus on Chinese news and be known for it without dilution.”

Fung Wai-kwong (Lo Fung) replied: “Ok, will stop running international news from today.”

The prosecution asked if the Apple Daily English edition stopped reporting international news from August 26, 2020, focusing only on Chinese news. Cheung believed so, stating that Lai made it clear they should not have such content, and he closely monitored the English edition as per Lai’s instructions.

When asked why Lai was closely monitoring, Cheung explained that Lai hoped to influence international opinion through the English edition after the implementation of the National Security Law. “He hopes that both Hong Kong and Apple Daily can receive political protection from the United States and Western countries, especially since the National Security Law has been implemented. Considering the implementation of the National Security Law, Lai believes that after its enforcement, it is a critical moment of life and death for both Hong Kong and Apple Daily. Therefore, he is closely concerned about the English edition.”

Cheung recounted that the atmosphere in May 2020 was “very tense,” especially in late May when the National People’s Congress announced the intention to enact the National Security Law. Lai implemented a strategy of sending “one letter to the U.S. President per person” and mentioned that Lai was busy at that time. Cheung explained that many foreign media outlets were lining up for interviews with Lai. Despite the pressure, Lai expressed no fear and stated that he would speak out on what he intended, including advocating for the United States to impose sanctions on China.

Cheung further explained that Lai perceived the National Security Law to be more severe than he anticipated. “If it is truly implemented, there won’t be anything left for Hong Kong’s economy and finance, and Apple Daily won’t have the opportunity to exist. Therefore, he hopes for the United States to impose sanctions on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”

10:20 Cheung: The editorial Direction of the English Edition is Decided by Lai.

Judge Alex Lee inquired if Cheung’s statement meant that he was not responsible for editorial decisions and sought instructions from Lai? Cheung agreed, stating, “Because this involves the directional editorial decisions of the English edition.” Alex Lee further questioned whether, in general, the president’s responsibility is to decide the editorial direction? Cheung explained that, in his understanding, many media outlets and newspapers have their own direction and editorial policies, and often it depends on the owner, who has their own style and stance, unless the owner is very hands-off and shares are held through some fund.

In the courtroom, a group chat message was displayed where Lai mentioned on August 8, 2020: “Kim-hung, Lo Fung (referring to Fung Wai-kwong), our news quantity is too small, lacking a critical mass to attract readers. We should find ways to increase, maybe add some financial news? But current affairs news must be increased, thank you, Lai.” Fung responded, “Understood, gradually increasing, for major news like the U.S. sanctions on Carrie Lam, we will increase immediately.” Cheung also replied, “Boss, understood. Currently increasing, will expedite the process.”

The prosecution inquired why there was a need to increase news related to sanctions. Cheung mentioned that Lai’s directive for the English edition was “anti-authority, resistance, and sanctions,” so Fung informed Lai, “If the U.S. sanctions Hong Kong officials, we will include it immediately.”

10:05 – Cheung: Lai Instructed that the English Edition Should not Include Content Related to Food, Travel, etc.

The prosecution continued questioning about the English edition of “Apple Daily.” Regarding the four categories mentioned by Cheung Kim-hung on Wednesday (January 24), including news, columns, interviews, and features, the prosecution inquired about the content of features. Cheung explained that they would translate reports on anti-authoritarian topics into English, such as investigations into China’s Xinjiang concentration camps. Interviews would involve translating various types of interviews from “Apple Daily” into English.

The prosecution asked about the types of interviews. Cheung stated that he couldn’t recall specific individuals but mentioned that, regarding columns, they would translate articles by Lee Yee and Ngan Shun-kau, as well as Jimmy Lai’s column “Success and Failure with a Laugh.” For news, daily selections were made by Fung Wai-kwong from Hong Kong and cross-strait news. As for English edition contributors, Cheung stated that Lai instructed senior management to find authors to write English articles, which would then be approved by Lai. Lai also mentioned that Mark Simon and Mark Clifford would help select contributors.

The prosecution inquired whether articles from supplements like “Eat and Travel Weekly” (飲食男女) would be included in the English edition. Cheung recalled that Fung Wai-kwong once told him that the content variety in the English edition was too limited, “They were all focusing on anti-authoritarian, resistance, and sanction-related articles. He asked me whether we could add some supplementary-type articles.”

Cheung continued, stating that when he sought instructions from Lai about adding travel, food, and cultural articles to the English edition, “Lai felt it wasn’t a good idea.” Cheung quoted Lai as saying that the purpose of the English edition was to select “Yellow-leaning” articles that support “Apple Daily” and can attract foreign attention and opinions. Lai disagreed with diluting the content with features of these types, and Cheung conveyed Lai’s message to Fung Wai-kwong that the English edition’s feature content should focus on anti-authoritarian issues in Hong Kong and China’s human rights suppression.

10:01 Court in Session

9:55 Jimmy Lai entered the courtroom, waving and greeting his wife.

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