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Day 19: January 30, 2024

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Trial | Cheung Kim-hung claims Apple Daily didn’t stop at supporting peaceful protests. “Support Small Shops” project never charged any fees and was intended to promote “Yellow Economic Circle”

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and three related companies associated with Apple Daily are facing their 19th day of trial on charges of colluding with foreign forces. Former publisher of Apple Daily, Cheung Kim-hung, continued to be cross-examined by the defense. The defense listed the front pages that contain anti-amendment demonstrations from June to August 2019, pointing out that all the demonstrations were issued with a notice of no objection, and that Apple Daily only supported peaceful demonstrations. Cheung Kim-hung disagreed, saying that as the violence became more intense, Apple Daily followed Lai’s stance and published articles from a more sympathetic and supportive angle. Although he felt that some of the articles were inappropriate, “the problem is that I am in this position, and as the publisher, I have to implement Mr. Lai’s policies.

The defense claimed that Jimmy Lai had promoted the “Support Small Shops” advertisement campaign during the anti-amendment period because Apple Daily was losing big customers at the time and wanted to find new ones, but Cheung claimed that the loss of big customers was only one of the arguments and added that Lai, as a businessman, didn’t plan to collect advertising fees from clients for about half a year and does not consider the ultimate goal to be making money.The defense asked Cheung if Lai intended to make a profit from the advertisements at any point in time, Cheung said “that’s for Mr. Lai to disclose” and denied that the scheme was a potential source of income. In fact, it was losing money every month, according to Cheung.

The defense further contended that Lai’s original intent was not to support “yellow shops” but rather “small shops.” Cheung explained that it was just the name of the plan, clarifying that it wasn’t called “Support Yellow Shops,” but that was the intended meaning. He also mentioned Lai’s view that the “yellow economic circle must exist” and believed that it was necessary in situations of resistance.

The defense presented an article titled “Round up of all opposition politicians the HK version of Kaohsiung Incident,” published by Apple Daily on January 14, 2021, written by Glacier Kwong Chung-ching. The defense highlighted that on the English version of Apple Daily’s website, it mentioned that the author’s opinions did not represent the editorial stance. Cheung commented, “This is just a standard answer,” similar to programs stating, “Guest opinions do not represent the stance.” This practice is implemented to safeguard the company and avoid litigation risks. However, the criteria for selecting articles in the English edition adhered to Lai’s framework, including “yellow” leaning and supportive of Hong Kong, while avoiding positive content about China.

As for the Chinese commentary section, it was managed by chief editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee. Cheung stated that he and Lai would suggest writers to Yeung, and he generally accepted recommendations because the two were superiors in the hierarchy.

Ming Pao

The Witness: Real-time Updates | Day 19 of the Trial of Jimmy Lai – The defense argues that Lai only advocated peaceful demonstrations. Cheung Kim-hung says: Lai advocated the unification of both peaceful and valiant protesters

Founder of Next Digital, Jimmy Lai, and three related companies of Apple Daily, face charges of “conspiring to collude with foreign forces.” The trial, now in its 19th day, resumed at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court (acting as the High Court temporarily) on Tuesday. Former Next Digital CEO and “accomplice witness” for the prosecution, Cheung Kim-hung, continued to undergo cross-examination by the defense.

The defense asserted that Jimmy Lai had, at times, requested a reduction in contributions from a certain writer due to overly radical content. They also claimed that Lai consistently advocated for peaceful demonstrations. Cheung disagreed with both points, stating that Lai wanted to make space for another writer by requesting the adjustment. He further noted that during the anti-extradition bill protests, as violence escalated, Lai believed there should be no distinction between the camps supporting peaceful protests and more radical protests. At that time, Apple Daily aligned its reporting and commentary more with Lai’s stance, publishing content that was more sympathetic and supportive of protesters from a perspective of resistance.

The case is being heard by High Court judges designated under the National Security Law, including judges Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wan-tang. The prosecution is represented by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, 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, who is qualified to practice in Hong Kong.

16:14 Court adjourned

15:46 Defense plays recording of Cheung’s speech at staff meeting, stating “We are not a criminal organization”

The defense pointed out that after the implementation of the National Security Law, Lai was immediately arrested, and many employees were concerned about the situation at Apple Daily. Top management received numerous inquiries from employees, leading to a staff meeting on May 11, 2021. Cheung confirmed this.

During the trial, the defense played a recording of Cheung’s speech at the staff meeting, which lasted about 5 minutes. In the recording, Cheung mentioned, “Recently, there have been many rumors about the possible closure of Apple Daily. There are various claims outside, such as whether Apple Daily will be closed down on July 1, or some people will be arrested if they don’t leave before July 1. I find this absurd… I want to tell everyone here solemnly, Apple Daily will not close itself down,” followed by applause.

Cheung continued in the recording, stating, “We are not breaking the law; we are not a criminal organization. We are in the news business. We don’t need to evacuate our colleagues. There is absolutely no such thing. News as usual, business as usual. Don’t believe what you hear. The company has been trying its best all along and is law-abiding… You ask if the laws will tighten; I don’t know. If they tighten, we will adapt. But it won’t be because of this that we shut ourselves down. I assure you on behalf of the boss and everyone that this will not happen.”

Cheung also mentioned in the recording, “Lai wrote a letter from prison last month, and I believe everyone has read it, saying that working in press freedom is dangerous. Please take care, and colleagues, try to be careful. Besides being cautious as the management, the chief editor, and vice president, every colleague must be careful. Even frontline workers must be careful. Checking, reporting something that might have been harmless in the past might now be scrutinized under a magnifying glass at Apple Daily. So everyone really needs to be careful.”

He emphasized, “We are absolutely not backing down. Apple Daily has no room for backing down. Apple Daily has many supporters, with 600,000 subscribers and 100,000 people buying our newspaper every day, which is an endorsement of our values. So, we don’t do news with emotions; we do news with facts.”

Cheung confirmed that the above statements were made by him, clearly expressing that he and the staff at Apple Daily were involved in reporting news and stating, “we are not a criminal organization.” Lai’s letter also mentioned the dangers of working in press freedom, urging colleagues to be cautious.

When questioned by the defense if Lai meant for Apple Daily employees to avoid committing crimes, Cheung stated, “I dare not interpret it that way. Lai instructed colleagues to be more cautious in this situation.”

15:20 Defense claims that the article “The Best Time to Lam Chau” does not advocate for bringing mutual destruction; Cheung: The author must have thought so

The defense also mentioned the article “The Best Time to Lam Chau,” which discusses sanctions against Hong Kong. The defense argued that the first paragraph only describes the protest events and does not advocate or call for “lam chau” (bringing mutual destruction) or sanctions but merely describes the events. Cheung disagreed, stating, “the author must have thought it; it’s not just a description.” Upon checking the records, the article was written by Lee Yee.

15:00 Defense claims that communication between national leaders is also a form of international pressure; Cheung: Lai’s thoughts were different

The defense inquired whether it was possible to exert international pressure through different means. Cheung agreed but emphasized, “Lai did not think in terms of ordinary international pressure at that time.” The defense then suggested that the “One Hongkonger, One Letter to Save Hong Kong” campaign aimed to highlight the flaws in legislation. Cheung stated that he couldn’t see any connection between the two. The defense described communication between national leaders as a form of international pressure. Cheung responded, “But Lai’s thoughts at that time, as he told me, were not about this.”

Judge Alex Lee mentioned a segment in the “One Hongkonger, One Letter to Save Hong Kong” campaign, stating, “In Hong Kong today you are already respected as one of the few world leaders willing to confront China’s bad behavior.” Alex Lee asked if the purpose of the article was to hope for friendly talk between Trump and China.

Cheung described that Lai always felt that Trump “dared to confront China, consistently praised Trump’s unilateralism, dared to initiate this trade war, forcing the Chinese Communist Party to adhere to Western values—this has always been Lai’s perspective.”

The defense further asked if, aside from seeking public opinion support, the letters had no other purpose. Cheung said that the letters were a request for Trump to confront China.

14:53 Defense claims Lai never called Cheung to give instructions on “One Hongkonger, One Letter” campaign; Cheung disagrees

The defense continued to inquire about the “One Hongkonger, One Letter to Save Hong Kong” campaign, where Cheung had previously stated that Lai called him to give instructions on the matter. The defense pointed out that Lai had never called Cheung to issue relevant instructions and had not informed him about the guests participating in the “Live Chat with Jimmy Lai” program. Cheung disagreed with both statements.

The defense further mentioned that Cheung’s testimony suggested he had reservations about the guests invited by Lai to the program. Lai responded, “They (the Chinese Communist Party) are doing this to me, and I will go all out. I have no room to retreat.” The defense argued that no such conversation occurred, and Cheung disagreed.

Quoting from the “One Hongkonger, One Letter to Save Hong Kong” campaign, the defense highlighted an article stating, “Only through international pressure will the Chinese Communist Party ever reconsider this disastrous course of action.” The defense asked if, at the time, Apple Daily considered the National Security Law as disastrous. Cheung indicated that Lai “felt that way.” When asked about Cheung’s personal opinion, he described the National Security Law as “a piece of legislation that affects the human rights of many people in Hong Kong.”

14:33 Defense claims Lai established the English edition to provide perspectives not found in other media; Cheung disagrees

During questioning about the Apple Daily English edition, the defense suggested that the English edition was created to garner international support and provide English readers with different perspectives on the news. Cheung added that Lai established the English edition for “political protection” for Apple Daily. Another reason was to use English news to bring attention to the situation in Hong Kong from foreign and Western democratic countries, generate opinions abroad, and prompt foreign actions to protect Hong Kong against human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party.

The defense presented WhatsApp messages between Lai and Cheung, where Lai mentioned, “I think the most interesting for Americans in this English edition would be articles about mainland elites, human rights, activism, and the CCP dictatorship, etc. Pui-man and Wai-kwong can choose news to translate, but there must be talented individuals constantly brainstorming to do the best job.” When asked if this was specific to news reporting, Cheung responded that it included columns in addition to news reporting.

The defense further quoted another message from Lai where he said, “our goal is to provide foreigners with Chinese news that they cannot see in the South China Morning Post, breaking the monopoly of SCMP in this regard.” The defense argued that Lai aimed to break the SCMP monopoly, provide Chinese news not covered by SCMP, and offer an alternative perspective. Therefore, what Lai referred to as not needing balanced reporting was, in fact, aimed at providing perspectives not found in other media. Cheung disagreed.

The defense also cited a message from Lai that mentioned, “Kim-hung, Lo Fung (referring to Fung Wai-Kwong), our news quantity is too low, and we don’t have critical mass to attract readers. We should think of ways to increase, or maybe increase some financial news?” The defense argued that this showed Lai requested an increase in news, including financial news, which is different from political news. Cheung emphasized that Lai still requested negative news, specifically “negative news about China.” Despite Lai suggesting an increase in news, he did not allow the addition of general news. For instance, when Fung suggested adding international news, Lai did not agree. Cheung reiterated that Lai, at that time, indicated that choosing such news would “dilute the original purpose of the English edition.”

12:58 Court in recess

12:20 Defense claims Lai planned to produce leisure videos, and it was Cheung who requested political content; Cheung disagrees

During the main questioning, Cheung mentioned that after appearing on the program “Narrating Zhongnanhai,” hosted by former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho, Lai called him to discuss seeking U.S. support for the anti-extradition movement. The defense argued that Lai never called him after the program and did not mention meeting with then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to seek U.S. support. Cheung disagreed, stating, “Lai did call me… and told me about his appearance on Albert Ho’s program and meeting with Pompeo.”

Regarding “Apple Daily Video Talk,” the defense argued that interviewing opposition figures was not the focus of the videos, and Cheung disagreed. The defense presented a message showing that on July 1, 2019, Lai forwarded a message to Cheung, mentioning that he hoped the video content would be related to cooking, pets, health, and parenting; Cheung agreed.

The defense questioned why the message did not mention interviewing opposition figures. Cheung explained that the message was about seeking Lai’s guidance on dividing the content because Lai had requested an increase in the number of videos from four per week to forty per week, instructing the entire Apple Daily departments, including news, finance, cross-strait affairs, and supplements, to share the workload.

Cheung continued, stating that at that time, employees were unsure about how to divide the videos or who would be responsible. He clarified that the conversation was about seeking Lai’s guidance on the division of work, not about turning “Video Talk” into a political history series. The defense claimed that Lai initially planned to make leisure videos, and it was Cheung who requested adding political content, but Cheung disagreed.

The defense further argued that Cheung suggested using the videos to educate readers about history rather than producing leisure videos. Cheung reiterated that the conversation was merely seeking Lai’s advice on whether certain types of content could be included, clarifying that at that time, “Video Talk” had already been covering news for about half a year in 2019.

The defense quoted Cheung’s message stating, “With the change in Hong Kong, there is much we need to do! National education is here, and history is at the forefront. I have already asked Nick and Wai Kwong to find history professionals to use special topics and Video Talk to tell readers and the next generation the historical truth,” asking if Cheung intended to “preserve certain viewpoints” through Video Talk, to which Cheung agreed.

12:15 Defense claims Cheung changed testimony to implicate Lai; Cheung denies

Under questioning from the prosecution, Cheung mentioned that Lai asked him to write “反送中” (anti-extradition to China) in large calligraphy with a brush before the march and print it on 100,000 long banners. The defense argued that Lai did not intend to attach the banners to the newspaper but wanted to distribute them to the pro-democracy camp. Cheung stated that Lai initially planned to “distribute them with the newspaper,” but later found it might be too late to print them. Cheung also mentioned that he sought Lai’s approval in a message, stating, “Distribute 40,000 tomorrow, and around 60,000 the day after tomorrow, a total of 100,000 in two days.”

Cheung continued, “Lai did not correct me; he just asked if it was necessary and told me to hand over the distribution to Wong Wai-keung.” He also mentioned that Lai instructed him to add “罷課罷市罷工” (boycott classes, boycott businesses, and strike) to the banners. According to Cheung, Lai’s message said, “Print 100,000 for distribution to the pro-democracy camp, 40,000 tomorrow.” However, he was unclear about how Lai coordinated with the pro-democracy camp.
Judge Alex Lee noted that the conversation seemed to suggest that it was Cheung’s idea to attach the banners to the newspaper, asking if it was Cheung’s or Lai’s decision. Cheung emphasized, “I can say it was not my idea. If I have such knowledge, it came from Wong Wai-keung.” The defense argued that Cheung changed his testimony to implicate Lai, but Cheung disagreed with the claim.

11:53 Defense refers to other media, stating that the meeting between Anson Chan and Pence was worth reporting; Cheung agrees

Under questioning from the prosecution earlier, Cheung mentioned that Jimmy Lai forwarded him a photo of former Secretary for Administration and Justice Anson Chan meeting with then-US Vice President Mike Pence, considering it significant news and instructing him to “maximize the impact” with this news.

The defense inquired whether the news of “Anson Chan meeting Pence” was particularly noteworthy, and Cheung agreed but couldn’t recall if other mainstream media had covered it.

In court, the defense presented reports from other media, including “Sing Tao” with the headline “Anson Chan visits the US to meet Vice President Pence, briefly discusses Hong Kong situation,” “South China Morning Post” with “Hong Kong’s former No 2 Anson Chan meets Mike Pence in Washington as US report criticizes Beijing ‘intervention’ in city’s affairs,” and “Ta Kung Pao” with “Anson Chan ‘takes to foreign countries,’ fawning over Pence.”

Cheung acknowledged that “South China Morning Post,” “Ta Kung Pao,” and “Apple Daily” used the same photo but reported from completely different perspectives. He agreed that the media using different angles for reporting was not wrong.

As for Cheung’s claim that Lai instructed him to interview Causeway Bay Bookseller Lam Wing-kee to encourage mass protests, the defense inquired how Lai knew Lam Wing-kee was heading to Taiwan. Cheung mentioned that Lai, in a message, stated that an RTHK photographer provided him with relevant information. Cheung didn’t know if the same information was given to other media by the same photographer. Cheung, under questioning, mentioned that Lam’s exile was a social event and thus newsworthy.

The defense showed headlines from “Sing Tao” with “Lam Wing-kee worries about ‘Fugitive Offenders Ordinance,’ goes to Taiwan hoping to settle,” “South China Morning Post” with “Bookseller Lam Wing-kee leaves Hong Kong for Taiwan, fearing proposed extradition law will mean he is sent to mainland China,” and “Ta Kung Pao” with “Lam Wing-kee does ‘fleeing show,’ acting as a pawn against the extradition bill.”

The defense argued that “South China Morning Post” also published a photo of Lam boarding at the airport, and while “Ta Kung Pao” didn’t include a photo, it placed the news as a headline, demonstrating that using different perspectives in reporting was not wrong. Cheung agreed. The defense further clarified that it was not Cheung but Chan Pui-man who decided to put Lam Wing-kee’s exile report on the front page. Cheung disagreed, stating, “I told her (Chan Pui-man) that Jimmy Lai intended to put this news on A1.”

The defense then asked if Chan Pui-man would have placed the news on the front page without Cheung’s instructions. Cheung claimed not to know, stating, “because Lai sent me a message, saying he wanted to use this news for the front page, and I conveyed the message to Chan Pui-man.” When asked if Lai’s message mentioned putting the report on “A1,” Cheung confirmed that Lai referred to “headlines.”

11:51 Court in session

11:16 Court in recess

10:50 Defense argues Lai only advocated peaceful protests; Cheung disagrees, stating Lai advocated unification of the peace and valiant camps

The defense pointed out that if Apple Daily considered an article too radical, they would reduce related content, displaying conversations between Cheung and Lai. Cheung remarked, “I think we can reduce Gu Deming’s articles by a day!” Lai agreed, stating, “Yes, we can reduce him by one or two articles; sometimes, he is too radical.” Cheung explained that at the time, Gu’s column was in the supplement, and Lai invited Shun-Kau Ngan to write a column. Hence, he suggested reducing Gu’s contributions by a day, which Lai agreed to, aiming to make space for Ngan. Cheung mentioned that Lai felt Gu was too radical, but he did not fully understand Lai’s thought, as Lai had already agreed to provide a column for Ngan.

The defense argued that Lai only called for peaceful protests, but Cheung disagreed. The defense presented several Apple Daily front pages, including articles from June 15, 2019, July 1, 2019, and August 14, 2019, emphasizing Lai’s advocacy for peaceful demonstrations. Cheung stated that as the movement progressed, and violence escalated, Lai believed there should be no distinction between peaceful protesters and valiant ones. At that time, Apple Daily aligned its stance with Lai’s, focusing on reporting and commenting from a sympathetic and supportive perspective toward the protesters.

When questioned if Cheung found certain viewpoints inappropriate, he stated, “Personally, I think there is a problem, but in my position, as the publisher of Apple Daily, I had to execute Lai’s policy.”

In court, the defense displayed message records from November 14, 2019, between Cheung and Apple Daily’s Chief Editor Yeung Ching-kee. Cheung expressed concern about actions such as throwing flammable liquids on people and burning courts, considering them excessive. Yeung responded, “received.”

On April 17, 2021, Cheung messaged Yeung, stating, “Chief Editor, today I talked to Yuen (Shun-Kau Ngan) about avoiding using terms like ‘black cops.’ He asked us to help check; I think this would require your help. Thank you. In the current situation, it’s better not to use terms like ‘black cops.'” Cheung forwarded Ngan’s message to Yeung, saying, “Understood. I wasn’t sure about this matter, so please review it. Any edits would be acceptable without my consent.”

Cheung explained that “Yuen” in the messages refers to the editorial writer “Fong Yuen” Shun-Kau Ngan. Judge Alex Lee asked if Shun-Kau Ngan was a supplement writer. Cheung clarified that Shun-Kau Ngan wrote in the supplement for two days, but later, Lai wanted him to write editorials, one per week. Eventually, Lai felt his writing was good and wanted to increase it to two editorials per week.

10:30 Cheung says English edition selected articles according to Lai’s framework, no open invitation for submissions

As for the prosecution’s earlier presentation in court, displaying the article published by Apple Daily on January 14, 2021, titled “Round up of all opposition politicians the HK version of Kaohsiung Incident,” Cheung confirmed that the article was written by Glacier Kwong Chung-ching, emphasizing that she is not an Apple Daily staff member but a writer.

The defense inquired whether Apple Daily allowed submissions. Cheung stated, “I don’t think there was an open invitation for the English edition,” indicating that the English edition rarely published articles submitted by external contributors. When questioned further, Cheung mentioned that the criteria for selecting articles in the English edition followed the framework set by Lai, such as being “yellow-leaning,” “aligning with “Apple Daily’s perspective,” supporting Hong Kong, and avoiding positive content about China. He also agreed that not every submitted article would be published.

The defense argued that submitted articles did not necessarily have to align with the editorial stance. Cheung explained, “This is just a standard way of expression; many programs state that guest opinions do not represent the station’s stance.” He added that it’s to avoid legal risks. However, he emphasized that the English edition’s editorial team had to adhere to the framework set by Lai when selecting articles.

10:05 Defense claims “Support Small Shops” campaign was intended to expand revenue
Cheung disagrees: “we received no money despite doing it for over half a year”

Defense Senior Counsel, Robert Pang, continued questioning Cheung Kim-hung. Earlier, under the prosecution’s inquiry, Cheung mentioned that Jimmy Lai instructed the advertising department to carry out the “Support Small Shops” classified ads campaign. Yesterday, it was also brought up that Lai instructed the staff to interview “yellow shops” or small shops in the supplement section under the editorial instructions.

The defense argued that at that time, Apple Daily suffered losses of major advertising clients. Consequently, Lai initiated the “Support Small Shops Classified Ads” campaign to explore alternative revenue sources. Cheung stated, “This is a way of saying it. It’s challenging to make money from these classified ads, and we have done the ‘Support Small shops’ ads for over half a year without earning any money.”

Judge Alex Lee questioned whether Apple Daily did not charge any advertising fees. Cheung agreed, stating that Lai initially proposed a free trial, “In fact, there has been no decision to charge, no billing plan, and it has been going on for over half a year.” The defense suggested that the “Classified Ads” is another method to increase Apple Daily’s revenue. Judge Esther Toh questioned the claim given that the advertising plan was free.

The defense then pointed out to Cheung that the original purpose of the “Classified Ads” campaign was to find additional revenue. Cheung disagreed, stating that Lai had engaged in many businesses and knew that these classified ads cannot generate profits. He emphasized that the plan “lost money every month.”

The defense also noted that the campaign was named “Support Small Shops,” and those small stores just happen to also be “yellow shops.” Cheung quoted Lai, stating, “In a society with protests, the yellow economic circle needs to exist. Of course, in a society without protests, during a free-market time, there won’t be such an issue.”

Under questioning, Cheung agreed that Lai’s core value is a free-market economy. The defense questioned whether the “Support Small Shops” campaign contradicted Lai’s core value. Cheung stated, “So, when Lai says there are no protests, then this is unnecessary.” He reiterated, “while the name of the campaign is not ‘Support Yellow Shops,’ but Lai’s intention was.”

10:03 Court in Session

09:57 Jimmy Lai Enteres the Courtroom

Jimmy Lai, wearing a dark coat, walked into the dock, provided instructions to defense counsel Steven Kwan, and communicated with family members through gestures.

The Witness

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