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Day 21: February 1, 2024

The Witness: Jimmy Lai Trial Day 21 | Cheung Kim-hung denies being persuaded by the police during remand, only decided to be a prosecution witness later

Founder of Next Digital, Jimmy Lai, along with three affiliated companies of Apple Daily, faces charges of “conspiring to collude with foreign forces,” and the trial entered its 21st day on Thursday (February 1) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court (acting as the High Court).

The defense claimed that after Cheung Kim-hung’s bail application was rejected by the High Court in November 2021, a police sergeant brought the judgment to Cheung in the detention center, and they met for six hours. The next day, Cheung reportedly expressed a desire to reveal information to the police and become a prosecution witness.

The defense questioned the sudden change in Cheung’s decision to become a prosecution witness, suggesting that he may have been persuaded during the meeting with the police sergeant after his bail application was denied. Cheung Kim-hung denied this, stating that during the meeting, they only discussed routine matters such as life in detention and sports. He further claimed, “After reading the judgment myself, I started to think and wanted to speak the truth.” The trial will continue on Friday (February 2).

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.

Cheung once made a speech saying that Apple Daily would not “back down” at a staff meeting

Cheung admits intention to continue operating legally

On the 11th day of his testimony, Cheung Kim-hung faced further questioning from the defense regarding the affidavit he submitted when applying for bail in the High Court. The affidavit mentioned Cheung’s speech at an employee meeting in May 2021, where he stated that “Apple Daily has no room to back down.” Cheung explained in the affidavit that at that time, he meant “Apple Daily would continue to operate in the way it has always been, and that there would be no change to the core value and philosophy of Apple Daily no matter what happened.”

Under questioning from the defense, Cheung agreed that at the time, he believed Apple Daily was entirely legal. He also mentioned advising colleagues to “try not to be sentimental and continue to follow our original core values.” Cheung added that they operated according to Lai’s editorial style, and after the implementation of the National Security Law, Lai expressed, “Don’t worry, we will continue to strive and resist.” However, Apple Daily colleagues and management were concerned about the impact of the National Security Law on the newspaper. Therefore, they established contingency groups and organized legal seminars, aiming to operate as much as possible within the “red lines.”

Cheung confirms some articles were taken down after the National Security Law but did not perceive a significant change in editorial direction

The defense pointed out that after the National Security Law took effect, some articles were taken down or no longer published. Cheung agreed and gave examples, stating that articles related to Benny Tai and Jimmy Lai involving the National Security Law were taken down. However, he noted that they couldn’t remove Lai’s personal column and “Live Chat” program as they were the boss’s content. Cheung adds that Lai’s articles and videos were only taken down after he was formally charged with violating the National Security Law.

The defense further inquired whether there were substantial changes in Apple Daily’s editorial practices to ensure that published articles comply with the National Security Law after its implementation. Cheung mentions that at that time, it wasn’t clear where the “red lines” were, but he personally felt that the changes were not significant. However, he consulted lawyers about Apple Daily’s reporting, such as receiving advice not to advocate the phrase “Free Hong Kong – Revolution Now” regarding certain matters.

The defense points out that Cheung had a 6-hour meeting with the police during his remand period.

In response to further questioning from the defense, Cheung confirmed that he remained silent during recorded meetings and had a lawyer present before being formally charged. The defense continued to state that on November 5, 2021, Cheung applied for bail, which was denied by High Court Justice Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and the judgment was issued on November 10. The next day, a police officer surnamed Lai, along with the High Court judgment, visited Cheung at Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre. Cheung agreed with the statement.

The defense then inquired about the content of the 6-hour meeting between Cheung and the police on that day. Cheung said, “I personally think it might be around 4 hours because I didn’t have a clock or watch there.” When asked about the topics discussed during such an extended meeting, Cheung responds, “just ordinary life and activities in Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre, just ordinary things, nothing special.”

Cheung denies being persuaded by the police to become a prosecution witness and asserts that he decided to do so after reading the judgment and wanted to reveal the truth

The defense questioned the nature of the conversation during the first meeting with the police officer on November 5, expressing surprise that casual topics were discussed with a stranger. Cheung agreeed with this characterization. When asked by Justice Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios whether the police officer mentioned the topic of becoming a prosecution witness during the visit, Cheung responds that there was no such discussion during the visit, and he began considering the idea after reading the judgment on his own.

The defense continued by stating that on November 12, the day after the meeting, the police officer, along with Detective 8315, visited Cheung again, and it was during this visit that Cheung expressed his desire to disclose information and become a prosecution witness. Cheung subsequently hired another lawyer. The defense presented a letter dated December 16, sent by Lau & Chan Solicitors to the Department of Justice’s representative Ivan Cheung, who is also the representative of the prosecution in this case.

The letter mentions that after meeting with Cheung and seeking instructions, the solicitor was informed that the police invited Cheung to become a prosecution witness. The solicitor confirmed that Cheung intended to be a prosecution witness and offered assistance to the prosecution. The letter also states, “Please inform us whether the prosecution will withdraw any charges against our client (Cheung) or confirm that he will not be a defendant in this case.”

Justice Alex Lee expresses concern about the “legal professional privilege” of the letter. The defense clarified that they are only verifying the authenticity of the content with Cheung. The judge then asks Cheung if the police invited him to be a prosecution witness, to which Cheung denied. The defense inquired if the police officer persuaded Cheung to become a prosecution witness or if his decision changed after the meeting with the police, and Cheung categorically denies both scenarios.

The defense argues that Jimmy Lai aimed to enhance transparency through reporting, promoting more ideal governance. Cheung disagrees.

The defense further cited a WhatsApp group related to the English version of “Big Data” news, revealing that on July 10, 2020, Jimmy Lai messaged about using data journalism in Apple Daily to engage readers. Regardless of other media reporting positive or negative news about China, they should evaluate the information through big data to determine its accuracy, stating, “we let data speak for itself.”

Lai also messaged that the goal was not to “expose” but to “correct with data facts.” The defense suggested that Apple Daily aimed to increase information transparency to advocate for more ideal policies and governance, but Cheung disagrees.

Judge Alex Lee inquired about Cheung’s earlier statement regarding the English version of the news, mentioning that it only reported negative news about China without any positive news. However, the message indicates a different approach, addressing both positive and negative news about China using data to reveal the truth. Cheung responds by noting the disparity between the message and Lai’s policy at the time and asked Lai whether the intention was to “expose” scandals with data. Lai clarified that it was not about “exposing” but using data to “counter exaggerations in reporting,” citing an example of officials stating there was no issue with outward immigration, and they used keyword search numbers to refute that.

Defense: Lai Inquired About the Closure of Next Digital in March 2021

The defense further inquired about Cheung’s visit to Jimmy Lai after his remand. Cheung had previously mentioned that he consulted Lai about the situation at Apple Daily, and Lai suggested, “continue until they shut it down.” The defense pointed out that Lai never made such statements, but Cheung disagreed. The defense continued, stating that in March 2021, Lai raised the question with the board of directors about whether Next Digital should close down. Judge Alex Lee asks if Cheung was aware of Lai discussing closure matters with the board. Cheung stated that he was not aware, but Lai had given instructions earlier in the year regarding financial losses in Taiwan.

The Witness

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