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Day 17: January 26, 2024

The Witness: Real-time Updates | Day 17 of the Jimmy Lai Trial – Cheung Kim-hung claims to be concerned about the sensitivity of Jimmy Lai’s interview guests while Jimmy Lai replied, “I have no room to retreat.”

Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital and three related companies associated with Apple Daily, faces charges of “conspiring to collude with foreign forces” among other offenses. The trial entered its 17th day on Friday at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court). The prosecution’s accomplice witness, former Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung, continued his testimony, focusing on Lai’s interview program.

Cheung testified that when he learned about Lai’s interview with retired U.S. General Jack Keane, he expressed concerns to Lai, asking if it would be sensitive to invite a retired general at that time. Lai responded, “If they’re targeting me, I will go all out. I have no room to retreat.” Cheung interpreted “targeting me” as referring to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). When questioned why he thought it was sensitive, Cheung said, “ Well, it was collusion with foreign forces.” He added that Lai’s expression “go all out” meant inviting influential individuals for interviews, “requesting the U.S. to take action to protect” and emphasizing, “I have no room to retreat.”

12:33 Recess

12:20 The prosecution completed the main questioning regarding Cheung Kim-hung

In the final remarks, the prosecution mentioned that Cheung had previously stated that Lai’s editorial policy included the desire to use “Apple Daily” to encourage readers to resist. On an international level, they aimed to draw attention from Western countries, hoping that Western nations would take actions against Hong Kong and the central government, including imposing sanctions. The prosecution continued to ask Cheung about the relationship between the direction of articles and Lai’s editorial policy.

Cheung responded that all articles were published according to Lai’s editorial instructions and the editorial stance. As the publisher, he, along with other management, executed Lai’s instructions according to their respective roles. For instance, Chen Pui-man and Lam Man-chung were responsible for selling the newspaper, Ryan Law Wai-kwong was the chief editor in charge of online news, and Fung Wai-kwong mainly handled the English version. Yeung Ching-kee was responsible for the forum section and writing editorials. Cheung, as the publisher, ensured the accurate implementation and execution of Lai’s editorial policy and guidelines.

The prosecution stated that the main questioning was completed, and the defense requested a postponement until Monday, anticipating the commencement of cross-examination.

12:15 Cheung: We discussed whether “Apple Daily” should print posters for distribution by the Democratic Party after the National Security Law came into effect

Cheung cited an example of discussions in the “National Security Law Contingency Committee” group, debating whether “Apple Daily” should print its logo on protest posters for distribution by the Democratic Party. Cheung recalled this discussion occurring in the context of the July 1 march. Lai wished to include the “Apple Daily” logo on the posters, and participants in the group discussed sensitive content related to the post-enforcement of the National Security Law, questioning if such actions were suitable. Cheung described the considerations, stating that placing posters with the “Apple Daily” logo at Democratic Party stations might create a perception of a close relationship between the newspaper and the political party, as the poster was related to the anti-government movement. In the end, they decided to print the “Apple Daily” logo on the posters and handed them over to the Democratic Party.

Cheung added that the group also discussed whether it was suitable to publish certain advertisements. After Lai’s detention, colleagues who visited him would share what Lai had said.

12:00 Lam Man-chung suggested using Signal for communication due to its self-disappearing messages feature

The prosecution presented another WhatsApp group called the “National Security Law Contingency Committee” in court, with members including Cheung Kim-hung, Yeung Ching-kee, Chen Pui-man, Ryan Law Wai-kwong, and Lam Man-chung.

Cheung explained that as the National Security Law was about to take effect, many colleagues in the company had numerous questions about the legislation and its impact on their work. They were aware that some colleagues were concerned and considering resigning, especially in the Hong Kong news and breaking news departments. Therefore, Cheung and Chen Pui-man established the “National Security Law Contingency Committee” group, hoping that everyone could discuss the effects of the National Security Law, its impact on colleagues, and their concerns. Cheung mentioned that colleagues were worried about where the “red line” of the National Security Law lay, and the group was created to facilitate discussions on these matters.

The prosecution displayed group conversations, where on July 2, 2020, Lam Man-chung suggested, “Signal has a disappearing message feature that leaves no records. I recommend switching to Signal.” Cheung confirmed that the group eventually moved to Signal. Cheung explained that they wanted to maintain confidentiality as they discussed sensitive topics such as which articles to write and whether certain suggestions crossed any red lines. Due to concerns about the security of WhatsApp at that time, Lam Man-chung proposed shifting to Signal.

11:19 Recess

11:15 – Cheung: Lee Yee’s editorial mainly focuses on “anti-communism, defiance of authority.” He was considered one of Lai’s preferred authors.

The prosecution presented messages from columnist Lee Yee to Cheung Kim-hung, where Lee mentioned, “Recently, I’ve been feeling exhausted. I plan to reduce the ‘Life and Society’ column by two articles per week starting next month, to be published on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I will continue writing opinion pieces.” Cheung confirmed that he forwarded Lee Yee’s message to Jimmy Lai.

Cheung recalled that Lee Yee is a columnist for Apple Daily, personally invited by Lai to join the publication. As a person who is familiar with the communist party, Lee Yee has been writing editorials for Apple Daily for many years. He is also in charge of the forum section and writes a column titled “Life and Society.” Cheung described Lee Yee as a writer primarily focused on political articles, addressing topics such as “anti-communism, defiance of authority, and confronting chaos.” “Lee Yee is considered one of Lai’s favored authors, having written for Apple Daily for at least a decade or two, aligning well with Lai’s perspective.”

In court, the prosecution displayed an article titled “The Best Time to ‘Lam Chau’ (bring mutual destruction),” published on June 24, 2020. The article emphasized international appeals for sanctions against China and Hong Kong, defining “lam chau” as not seeking abuse or a death wish but rather facing authoritarianism with determination, even if it means taking extreme measures. The article highlighted the necessity of being resolute in the face of authority for Hong Kong to have a viable future. Cheung confirmed that the article was written by Lee Yee.

11:00 Cheung: Lai instructed not to report news attacking Trump

The prosecution inquired further about the meaning of “support” in the phrase “relying on Trump administration’s support for survival.” Cheung explained that it referred to “political support,” and Lai hoped that Trump and other politicians would subscribe to “Apple Daily,” considering it as substantial support. Upon receiving Lai’s instruction, Cheung relayed it to other senior executives and subordinates, and they followed Lai’s directive. For instance, during the U.S. presidential election, when Trump and Biden were debating, the international team would express opinions on both sides. Lai instructed “not to write too many negative articles attacking Trump,” as “Lai hoped for Trump’s reelection.”

10:45 – Cheung stated that he had concerns about interviewing retired U.S. General Jack Keane, fearing it would be perceived as colluding with foreign forces.

The prosecution continued to inquire about Cheung’s concerns upon learning that the program’s guest was retired U.S. General Jack Keane. Cheung responded that at the time, the National Security Law had already been enacted, and Jimmy Lai had been arrested, requiring regular bail extensions. When Cheung consulted Lai in his office about other matters, he expressed concerns, asking, “Is it too sensitive to invite retired generals at this time?” The prosecution further questioned what made it sensitive, and Cheung replied, “It involves colluding with foreign forces.”

The prosecution also presented a message from Lai dated June 2, 2020, in which Lai mentioned, “Yu-yam (裕鑫), please don’t follow The New York Times and CNN in targeting Trump. Apple Daily relies on the Trump administration’s support for survival, doing so is not appropriate.”

When asked about the reason for Lai’s instruction, Cheung explained that Apple Daily had engaged in activities such as sending letters to Trump, hoping for intervention to “save Hong Kong” amid the implementation of the National Security Law. Lai believed that Trump would act swiftly and take significant sanctions against China because Trump had previously stated, “If China enacts the National Security Law, there will be severe consequences.” At that time, Lai expected Trump to act quickly and issued instructions to Apple Daily to reduce the translation of articles criticizing Trump.

10:30 – Cheung mentioned that he once asked Lai whether interviewing a retired U.S. general would be sensitive, to which Lai responded, “I have no room to retreat.”

The prosecution presented another message from Cheung Chi-wai dated November 26, 2020, which stated, “Today’s live guests are General Jack Keane and Mark Clifford.” Cheung Kim-hung, when questioned, confirmed that he learned Jack Keane was a retired U.S. military officer.

Cheung stated that during discussions with Lai about the interview program, Lai informed him, “Recent guests have been strong, including Jack Keane, a retired U.S. general,” and Lai believed Keane had “considerable influence.” Cheung recalled expressing some opinions at that time. He mentioned telling Lai, “is it too sensitive to invite retired generals at this time?” Lai responded at that moment, saying, “In my decades of business experience, with my business intuition, they are trying to harm me. I will go all out, and I have no room to retreat.” Cheung clarified that, in his understanding, “they are trying to harm me” referred to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Cheung did not express any further opinions after hearing Lai’s response.

The prosecution further inquired whether Lai explained what he meant by “go all out” at that time. Cheung responded, indicating that it meant Lai would invite influential figures as guests to speak on matters he deemed important and request the United States to take action to protect Hong Kong. However, Lai did not provide a specific definition for “go all out,” simply emphasizing that “I have no room to retreat,” and according to Cheung’s understanding, Lai meant what he said.

10:15 – The message indicates that guests on Lai’s interview program include Chris Patten and a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The prosecution continued to inquire about Jimmy Lai’s interview program, “Live Chat with Jimmy Lai,” and presented further WhatsApp group messages showing that Cheung Chi-wai regularly reported the guests for the interview program in the group. Cheung Kim-hung confirmed this.

The prosecution listed the messages mentioning former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan Raymond Burghardt, former non-executive director of Next Digital Mark Clifford, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. On October 15, 2020, Cheung Chi-wai sent a message saying, “This morning’s live guests are former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Mark Clifford.” On November 13, 2020, Cheung Chi-wai sent a message stating, “Everyone, the recap of the conversation between the boss and Chris Patten is now available, including a 1.5-minute highlight clip.” Cheung Kim-hung confirmed that Chris Patten eventually participated in Lai’s interview program.

10:01 – The court session began

09:56 – Jimmy Lai entered the courtroom

Jimmy Lai was wearing a green sweater and a brown leather jacket, gesturing and chatting with family members.

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