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Day 22: February 2, 2024

The Witness: Jimmy Lai Trial Day 22 Chan Pui-man Testifies: Founder Supports the Values of Democracy and Human Rights

Founder of Next Media Jimmy Lai and three related companies, including Apple Daily, are charged with “conspiring to collude with foreign forces.” On the 22nd day of the trial at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court (acting as the High Court), former Chief Executive Officer of Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung, completed his testimony. In the afternoon, the second prosecution witness, former associate publisher of Apple Daily, Chan Pui-man, was called.

Under the prosecution’s questioning, she said that she joined Apple Daily in 1996 and eventually rose to the position of associate publisher, mainly responsible for local news in Hong Kong. When asked if she considered Apple Daily a political newspaper during her time as a senior reporter, Chan responded that the founder of Apple Daily had “a very clear value orientation, supporting the development of democracy and political systems in Hong Kong, as well as respecting values such as freedom and human rights.” She also mentioned that while not denying the entertainment aspect of Apple Daily, it also focused on “exposing scandals,” which she believed involved the public interest.

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.

16:22 Court Adjourned

16:10 Chan: Lai Wanted to Vigorously Develop Digital News

The prosecution inquired about the digital version of the news, and Chan described that Lai wanted to vigorously develop digital news. The company underwent a structural reorganization, where 70% of reporters were responsible for digital news, while the remaining 30% were engaged in combining electronic news and rewriting it into newspaper articles.

The trial will resume next Monday.

15:50 Chan: “Since 2014, Lai Has Become More Prominent in Social Movements”

The prosecution pointed out that ChAn described Lai becoming news during “Occupy Central.” Chan mentioned that Lai used to spend “a period of time, often sitting in Admiralty.” She believed that Lai was considered a public figure, “known by many people” and viewed as a media tycoon. The prosecution further inquired whether public perception of Lai changed after 2014. Chan stated, “It’s not scientifically proven, whether the general public’s perception has changed or not, but among colleagues, there’s a feeling that he became more prominent in social movements, I can say that.” Chan believed that before 2014, “not many people internationally recognized (Lai),” but after 2014, he became relatively famous.

15:35 Chan Confirms that Lai Discussed “Occupy Central” in a Meeting in 2014

The prosecution asked if, during a meeting with Lai in 2014, there was any discussion about the “Occupy Central” event. Chan indicated that it “might have happened” because Lai personally participated in the movement, and “since everyone is a reporter, we all want to know, especially when he (Lai) himself became the news.” Chan added that reporters, including chief editors and herself, mainly consisted of mid- to high-level employees attending the meetings. Lai would inform the chief editor through his secretary, who would then inform others about convening the meeting.

15:10 Chan Confirms Daily Coverage During “Occupy Central”

Entertainment News Coverage Reduced

The prosecution inquired about the layout of Apple Daily’s news pages. Chan confirmed that the “A stack” of the newspaper contains local news during her tenure as associate publisher. Pages A1 to A4 were dedicated to local news, with the bottom page of the “A stack” usually featuring China and international news. However, significant events like the Japan 311 earthquake or the US 911 attacks might be placed closer to the front of the “A stack.” Chan added that when she served as Deputy Editor, she was responsible for the static section of local news, focusing on policy-related news such as housing, transportation, and healthcare policies.

The prosecution then asks about the “Occupy Central” in 2014. Chan confirmed that during that time, she had more opportunities to meet with Jimmy Lai. She described that during that time, Lai would be in meetings, explaining his business management philosophy. Lai was particularly focused on developing online media, possibly perceiving a decline in print media. Consequently, he instructed subordinates to “think about news visuals, create animations,” describing Lai as being actively involved in incorporating animations into news stories.

The prosecution asked again, during the “Occupy Central” period, whether the quantity of entertainment news in Apple Daily increased or decreased. Chan responded that it probably decreased, stating that “the layout seemed to have reduced.” She also mentioned that the entertainment section was not under her purview, but based on her understanding, she felt that there were fewer news reports from them. When further questioned about how she would describe the coverage of the “Occupy Central” events at that time, Chan stated that there were many reports. Judge Alex Leefollowed up by asking if, during the months-long “Occupy Central” period, Apple Daily had news reports about it every day. Chan replied, “You can say so.”

14:50 Prosecution: Is Apple Daily a Political Newspaper?

Chan: Founder Supports Democracy and Human Rights

Prosecution focuses on Chan’s role as a senior reporter, asking whether she would describe Apple Daily as a political newspaper during that time. Chan responds that the founder of Apple Daily has “very clear values, strongly supporting the development of democracy and political systems in Hong Kong, as well as respecting values such as freedom and human rights.” The prosecution also emphasized whether the market supports Apple Daily and if entertainment news can attract readers.

Judge Alex Lee inquired about the content focus when she was still a senior reporter at Apple Daily. Chan mentioned that while Apple Daily is known for its entertainment news, it also emphasized news that “exposes scandals.” She believed these stories are in the public interest, citing examples like the incident where a high-ranking official “bought a car prior to the tax raise,” as the official was responsible for related policies, potentially creating a conflict of interest. Chan confirmed that the founder she was referring to was Apple Daily’s founder, Jimmy Lai. She mentioned that during her tenure as a senior reporter, she would occasionally see Lai in the company but had few opportunities for one-on-one conversations with him. At that time, Apple Daily only had a physical newspaper, and it had a “large circulation.”

14:31 Chan Pui-man Joined Apple Daily in 1996, Rose to Associate Publisher

The prosecution calls the next “accomplice witness,” former associate publisher of Apple Daily, Chan Pui-man, to testify. Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Ivan Cheung, was in charge of questioning. Chan confirmed, under prosecution’s inquiry, that she was arrested in connection to this case on June 17, 2021. After being granted bail by the police, she was arrested again on July 21, subsequently detained, and brought to court. Chan later pleaded guilty to the charge of collusion under the National Security Law, while the charge of conspiring to publish seditious publications was left on court file.

Responding to the prosecution’s questions, Chan confirmed that she was born in Hong Kong, received local education, and majored in Business Administration at university. At the time of her arrest, she held the position of associate publisher at Apple Daily. She joined the publication in December 1996. Chan recounts her previous employment with Capital Magazine and Sing Tao Daily before joining Apple Daily as a senior reporter, primarily covering local news. Over the years, she steadily rose through the ranks, ultimately becoming associate publisher. Although her main responsibility was local news, she would assist international colleagues during significant global events, such as the “311 earthquake” in Japan.

Chan recalled her tenure as associate publisher, where she was less involved in handling international news. In 2015, she became the Chief Editor but was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, classified as stage three. She underwent surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, within a seven-month sick leave. Upon her return, considering her health condition and the stress associated with the Chief Editor role, she voluntarily expressed to her superiors, including Cheung Kim-hung, that she “couldn’t bear the pressure and responsibility of being the Chief Editor.” At that time, the position of associate publisher was vacant due to the predecessor’s retirement. With the approval of Cheung Kim-hung, she was appointed as associate publisher, a role she considered to be a “supporting role” with less significant pressure. She continued in this role until her arrest.

14:32 Chan Pui-man Begins Testimony

Chan Pui-man, with short hair and bangs, appeared in court. She wore a cream-colored blouse, a light blue suit jacket, and a blue face mask. Chan’s husband, former Chief Editor of “Stand News” Chung Pui-kuen, sat in the public gallery, attentively observing Chan’s testimony.

12: 16 Lunch Break

11:57 Cheung Kim-hung Completes Testimony

During questioning by the defense, Cheung clarified that Apple Daily tried not to violate the national security law. The prosecution tried to get clarification on this by asking whether there was a policy or directive to do so. Cheung replied “There was no written policy or directive; it wasn’t an instruction. It’s the management of Apple Daily feeling that we need to be more cautious and take measures to avoid crossing the red line of the National Security Law.”

He continued to mention that Lai did not directly tell Apple Daily, “You must not violate the National Security Law.” Emphasizing that after the National Security Law came into effect, “Lai did not mention any changes to the editorial policy of Apple Daily.” After the prosecution’s cross-examination, the judge informed him, “You have completed your testimony,” and Cheung acknowledged, “Yes, I understand.” Before leaving, Cheung bowed to the judge but did not look in the direction of Jimmy Lai.

The prosecution stated that they would summon former Apple Daily associate publisher Chan Pui-man in the afternoon. Chan’s husband, former Stand News Chief Editor Chung Pui-kuen, was present in the morning, but he left the court during lunch break.

11:21 AM: Court Recess

10:45 Messages Indicates Company Lawyer Warned Against Mentioning “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times”

Apple Daily Continued to Use Related Images After the National Security Law

In response to earlier questioning regarding discussions with Chan Pui-Man about advertisements containing the term “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” the prosecution presented a message Cheung forwarded to Chan on July 4, 2020, from the company lawyer Rosa. The message mentioned, “Given the government’s press release yesterday, emphasizing that the slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’ would violate the National Security Law, from today onwards, all articles related to this slogan cannot be used, and I will inform my colleagues.”

The prosecution then displayed three Apple Daily articles published after July 4, 2020, on July 5, 8, and 23. The enlarged newspaper headers showed photos with the “Liberate Hong Kong” flag and the phrase “Two Systems Laid to Rest.” Judge Alex Lee asked who decided to use the phrase “Two Systems Laid to Rest”? Cheung indicated that all articles related to the National Security Law would use this title, and “Two Systems Laid to Rest” was the front-page headline in Apple Daily on the day the National Security Law took effect.

Cheung emphasized that it aligned with Lai’s belief that “One Country, Two Systems” had ended after the National Security Law came into effect, describing it as “following Lai’s standard.” Lee asked again who decided to place the “Liberate Hong Kong” term at the top of the newspaper. Cheung couldn’t recall and described the term as originating from news photos. He also stated that he was unsure how long this design lasted and that no legal advice was sought when publishing the mentioned three articles.

10:30 Cheung Indicates Lai Set Editorial Policy After National Security Law

During Cheung’s earlier testimony, he mentioned Lai instructing subordinates to print the Apple Daily logo on posters for distribution by the Democratic Party on the street. In WhatsApp conversations displayed in court, Cheung messaged, “Is Man concerned about getting more difficult to distance ourselves if the boss insists?” Cheung explained in court that printing the Apple Daily logo on posters for distribution by the Democratic Party made it seem like a collaboration between a newspaper and a political party in the resistance, making it challenging to disassociate.

Earlier, the court showed excerpts from WhatsApp groups, with Cheung stating that Lai was not a member of the groups. The prosecution asked why Lai was not a group member. Cheung explained, “Because if Lai joins, we don’t need to discuss anything; Lai decides everything. Everyone is free to express opinions in the group, and if there’s a real need, we can discuss it with Lai.” The prosecution noted that Cheung had previously mentioned that others had no choice but to follow Lai’s editorial policy. Cheung confirmed that this situation did not change after the National Security Law came into effect.

10:15 Cheung: Lai’s Interviews After National Security Law “Less Explicit”

The defense previously mentioned discussions between Lai and Cheung Kim-hung regarding English-language “big data” news. Lai told the staff that he wanted to use data news to capture readers’ interest, emphasizing the need to evaluate the accuracy of information about China, whether positive or negative, using big data. Under re-examination by the prosecution on Friday, Cheung mentioned that due to the high expenses and Lai’s subsequent remand, the plan was ultimately suspended and not implemented.

The prosecution also inquired about the conversation between Cheung and Yeung Ching-kee. During this discussion, Cheung asked Yeung if the Apple Daily editorial had content related to splitting the country or confronting the government. Yeung responded that there might have been such content before the implementation of the National Security Law. Cheung added that at the time, he cited other reports mentioning “openly calling for foreign joint sanctions and overthrowing the government.” Cheung stated that after the National Security Law came into effect, Lai’s expressions or statements during interviews became “less explicit” compared to before the law’s implementation. Yeung Ching-kee also noted that Lai did not explicitly say he wanted sanctions.

10:02 Court in session

Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang stated that after dealing with Cheung Kim-hung’s re-examination, the prosecution will summon the second prosecution witness, Chan Pui-man, in the afternoon.

9:56 Jimmy Lai appears in court

The Witness

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