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Day 23: February 05, 2024

The Witness: Real-time update | Jimmy Lai Trial Day 23 Chan Pui-man: Lam Man-chung could be considered my deputy

Next Media founder Jimmy Lai and three companies related to “Apple Daily” were charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” and other crimes. The case started on the 23rd day of the trial at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (Provisional High Court) on Monday (February 5) , the second prosecution witness, former “Apple Daily” associate publisher Chan Pui-man, continued to testify, describing the operation of “Apple Daily”, including holding daily “focus group meetings.” Chan also described Lam Man-chung as “my deputy.”

Chan Pui-man further confirmed that she had received a message from Jimmy Lai requesting the news about the meeting between former Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing and then-U.S. Vice President Pence to be presented “to achieve the maximum effect.” She ultimately placed the relevant content “in a visible position and made it more extensive.” During the anti-extradition movement, Lai also sent a message to Chan, stating, “please continue to do news on the dangers faced by Hong Kong business people doing business in the mainland, frightening those business people so that the pro-establishment camp does not dare to act recklessly.” Judge Alex Lee asked about Lai’s statement “Please continue,” and Chan indicated that Lai wanted Apple Daily to report more on the business sector’s concerns about the extradition bill and opposition to the bill. She clarified, in response to official questioning, that she viewed Lai’s message as an instruction, not just a suggestion.

The case was 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.

16:28 Court adjourned

16:15 Chan confirmed that it was her decision to place the news about Lam Wing-kee leaving Hong Kong for Taiwan on the front page.

The prosecution began questioning about Lam Wing-kee’s departure to Taiwan. The prosecution mentioned that Jimmy Lai sent a message to Chan on April 26, 2019. Chan recalled that Lai sent her “several dozen messages in the early morning” on that day. After reading the messages upon waking up, she immediately contacted Ryan Law Wai-kwong and learned that the digital version had already been handled and was ready for upload on the electronic platform. She later returned to the office to deal with the print version, and the final report became the headline news the next day. At that time, Cheung Kim-hung was in Taiwan, interviewing Lam Wing-kee with colleagues from Taiwan Apple Daily. Chan confirmed that it was her decision to place this report on the front page (A1).

She explained that besides the inherent news value of the report, the individuals providing the photos also set a condition. Since these photos were considered “exclusive,” they requested that Apple Daily publish the report on the front page before agreeing to provide the pictures. Additionally, Cheung Kim-hung was “very anxious about this piece of news” and immediately assisted in interviewing Lam Wing-kee and writing the report, so they decided to place the report on the front page.

15:43 Articles with the headline “Evil Extradition Law” displayed in court

The prosecution presented an article titled “Talking about the Evil Extradition Law with Legal Veterans.” Chan confirmed that it was an article from Apple Daily because “we described this piece of legislation with that abbreviation.” However, based on the layout, it doesn’t appear to be a news article, and she is uncertain about which section of the newspaper it belongs to.

The prosecution displayed messages between Chan and Lai, where Lai asked if the content of the mentioned article could be turned into news. The prosecution asked whether this was a suggestion or an instruction. Chan stated it was a suggestion, mentioning that Lai asked, “Can it be done?” implying uncertainty about whether it could be accomplished, but “he suggested that we do it.”

Chan mentioned that Lai wanted her to interview the “legal veterans” mentioned in the article. They discussed how to articulate the points of the article in the news and whether it would be possible to take their picture from the back even if they refused to be shown, capturing only their silhouette. Chan further explained that despite her efforts through the article’s author, they were unable to arrange an interview with the mentioned “legal veteran.”

15:30 Prosecution presents the article “Gathering the Business Sector”
Chan was uncertain about the connection between the article and Lai’s instructions

The prosecution presented an article from Apple Daily titled “Western Concentration Camp: Gathering the Business Sector, Professionals to March on July 1.” Chan said it was a column article under “Western Concentration Camp,” written by different colleagues from various political groups under the pseudonym “Jitao.” The content involves political aspects and “comparative gossip.” Chan stated that, as it was not a news article, it wouldn’t be seriously discussed in the “first meeting” or the “pre-editing meeting,” and she rarely read the column directly, with most of it being reviewed by Lam Man-chung, who oversaw the entire layout.

The prosecution asks if Lai ever instructed Chan to convey the message in the article “Continue to do news on the risks of Hong Kong business people doing business in the mainland.” Chan replied that she may have conveyed it to her colleagues in the newspaper section but was unsure whether it reached colleagues in the online section.

The prosecution inquired about the connection between this article and Lai’s instructions. Chan indicated that she might have told her colleagues to cover more opinions and concerns from the business sector regarding the legislation, but she doesn’t know if this specific article resulted from her conveying these opinions or if it was originally leaked by democratic individuals to her colleagues. Judge Alex Lee wanted to make sure that Chan was unsure if there was a causal relationship between Lai’s instructions and the article, and Chan agreed with this uncertainty.

15:18 Chan confirms Lai’s instructions through reporting
“Frighten those business people”

The prosecution displayed a conversation between Chan and Lai on March 30, 2019. Lai mentioned, “Pui-man, the front page today is well done, just didn’t mention doing mainland news could be instantly considered disclosing national secrets and articles criticizing the Chinese government might be labeled subverting national security, but it’s good. Please continue to do news on the risks of Hong Kong business people doing business in the mainland, frightening those business people, so the pro-establishment won’t dare to act recklessly. Thank you. Lai.”

Chan replied: “Received, the business sector has influence, so the government made some concessions. If they oppose, the government has no room to maneuver.” Lai responded again: “Yes, dealing with these scaredy-cats might be our ace. Thank you. Lai,” and later added: “Pui-man, your article today is the finishing touch, very well-written. Lai.”

Judge Alex Lee asked whether Lai’s comment “the frontpage was well done but incomplete” refers to Lai’s interview content not being fully published. Chan states, “I think he meant, it didn’t focus well on these two points… buried within the article.” Alex Lee asked, “What did Lai mean by ‘please continue’? Chan explained that Lai wanted Apple Daily to report more on the business sector’s concerns and opinions regarding the extradition bill.

Alex Lee asked whether Lai’s statement “continue to do news on the risks of Hong Kong business people doing business in the mainland, frightening those business people so the pro-establishment won’t dare to act recklessly” is a suggestion or an instruction. Chan stated, “I would consider it as an instruction because he didn’t say, ‘I suggest you do something.'” Regarding the term “scaredy-cats” that Lai used, Chan indicated, “I understand it refers to business people; he said, ‘frighten those business people.'” The prosecution queried about Lai’s message praising Chan’s article as “finishing touch.” Chan said that the article referred to her column “Life in Landfills,” (堆填生活) written for the supplement section.

15:00 Lai had an interview with Apple Daily
Describing the amendment to the “Fugitive Offenders Ordinance” as “worse than Article 23”

In court, the prosecution presents messages exchanged between Lai and Chan on March 30, 2019, mentioning the Journalists Association and “we will follow up on the legislation,” inquiring whether it refers to the “Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.” Chan confirmed this and explained that Lai wanted to discuss with the Journalists Association’s executive committee the impact of the ordinance on the news industry. However, as he had no contact information of the committee, he contacted Chan, and she relayed the committee’s response as there were different opinions internally about attending the meeting.

The prosecution displayed an article published on April 1, 2019, in Apple Daily titled “Jimmy Lai: If the Amendment Passes, the Media Can’t Operate,” mentioning “Founder of Next Media Group, Jimmy Lai, took to the streets yesterday, saying that this amendment is ‘worse than Article 23 (legislation),’ and once it passes, even Hong Kong’s only press freedom will disappear.” The prosecution asked why Lai would compare the “Fugitive Offenders Ordinance” to Article 23. Chan stated that Lai believed the amendment targets political prosecution.

The prosecution referred to a part in the article where “Lai said: ‘This matter is crucial.. If this passes, we can’t do it! The media can’t operate! You talk about reporting mainland news; they (the mainland government) say you disclose state secrets; you criticize them, and they say you subvert national security, then there’s nothing left, no press freedom at all.'” Chan confirmed that this accurately documented Lai’s statement.

Judge Alex Lee asked how they ensure accuracy. Chan explains, “As journalists, we usually use direct quotes, directly quoting, and we listen back to the recording to write it out.”

14:32 Chan confirms following Lai’s instructions
Maximizing the impact of meeting between Pence and Anson Chan

The prosecution continued to present messages exchanged between Lai and Chan. On March 23, 2019, Lai forwarded a photo to Chan, featuring former Chief Secretary Anson Chan meeting then-Vice President Mike Pence, stating that he wanted to use this news “to maximum effect.” Chan mentioned that she used the mentioned news to achieve the maximum effect by placing it in an obvious position and enlarging its coverage.

Subsequently, the prosecution displayed an Apple Daily front-page report titled “Pence Meets Mrs. Chan, Concerns About Hong Kong Human Rights – Scholars: High-level reception pressures Beijing.” This was identified as what Chan meant by “maximum effect,” and she confirmed this.

The prosecution further inquired about various parts of the report, specifically whether the subheading “Scholars: High-level reception pressures Beijing” was the subheading mentioned by Chan earlier. Chan stated that it was not. The prosecution also quoted a line at the bottom of the newspaper, saying, “Guiding China policy – Hong Kong issues may become a power struggle between China and the United States,” and asked if this was another subheading. Chan explained that this was an analytical follow-up article.

Regarding the photo caption stating “Anson Chan was arranged last-minute by the White House to have a brief meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, discussing the human rights and freedom situation in Hong Kong,” mentioning that the picture was provided by the Democratic Party and the text states that Democratic Party members visited the U.S. with Anson Chan, she confirmed.

The prosecution asked why they chose this news for the front page at the time. Chan stated, “We all felt that it had news value, and, of course, Lai’s words on making it bigger is also a factor.”

13:06 Court Recess for Lunch

12:20 Chan Pui-man mentions that “Hong Kong Watch” was more critical of China

The prosecution presented messages between Chan Pui-man and Benedict Rogers of “Hong Kong Watch” on December 30, 2017. Rogers sent a link to Chan, referring to a media report about him being named the “Person of the Year” in 2017. In court, Chan expressed uncertainty about why Rogers became the “Person of the Year.”

The prosecution also displayed messages between Lai and Chan. Lai sent a link to Chan on May 18, 2018, to an article written by Rogers titled “Lawfare Waged by the Hong Kong Government Is Crushing the Hopes of Democrats.” After reading the article in court, Chan mentioned that it primarily discussed the disqualification of Legislative Council members, prosecutions of individuals involved in the 2014 “Occupy Central Movement,” and legislators. However, she couldn’t recall whether Apple Daily reported on the content of the article.

The prosecution inquired whether “Hong Kong Watch” is “pro-China” or “anti-China.” Chan responded, “I think it’s quite critical, more critical of the PRC…” The prosecution further asked if this description could apply to Rogers, and Chan confirmed it.

The prosecution presented messages between Lai and Chan on March 4, 2019. Lai sent a link to a report published by the Washington Examiner on March 2, titled “US, Beijing trade barbs over Hong Kong autonomy,” asking Chan to “make it big.” Chan replied, “Already made A2 full page on the day of the Consul General’s speech.”

The prosecution asked if the “A2 front page” was the equivalent to “making big.” Chan stated, “just below the headline, I felt it was quite significant.” Judge Alex Lee questioned why, if Chan believed it was already “made big,” she didn’t directly refuse Lai’s request. Chan explained, “What I meant was when Mr. Lai asked us to make it big, we had already made it big. So, I was politely telling him that we had already made it big.”

Alex Lee followed up, asking if Chan didn’t say “already made big,” would Lai continue to ask her to “make it big”? Chan replied, “Because Mr. Lai valued this news so much, after reporting the speech itself, we would look into any follow-up reports, such as public reactions to the speech, rather than saying no need to report.”

12:02 The prosecution presents WhatsApp messages between Jimmy Lai and Chan Pui-man mentioning the organization Hong Kong Watch.

The prosecution displayed the WhatsApp conversation records between Chan Pui-man and Jimmy Lai, showing that in October 2017, Lai sent a message to Chan: “Pui-man, I just had dinner with Ben Rogers. He has just set up HK WATCH to defend Hong Kong’s freedom with some MPs. I told him if he needs media assistance, find you and I gave him your contact. Thank you, Lai.” Chan replied with “Received” and “within my capacity.”

In court, Chan mentioned that before Lai sent the above message, she did not know Benedict Rogers, and based on Lai’s explanation, Benedict Rogers, along with some members of Parliament, established a new organization called Hong Kong Watch to express opinions on the human rights situation in Hong Kong. Chan continued, stating that Rogers later contacted her, usually sending press releases introducing the organization’s establishment.

The prosecution further presented messages between Chan and Rogers on October 31, 2017. Rogers introduced himself, saying, “Today we are announcing a new voluntary organization Hong Kong Watch. I attach our press release. Best Wishes, Ben.” Chan responded with “Thanks. We will follow up.” She continued, mentioning that until the outbreak of the anti-extradition movement in 2019, the organization “became more active, releasing more press releases on Hong Kong affairs.”

11:24 Short break

10:50 Chan Pui-man: Communication among Apple Daily and Next Digital employees through Slack

The prosecution revisited the weekly Tuesday planning meetings, and Chan Pui-man explained that representatives from each department would discuss the key news and deployments for the upcoming week. She and Lam Man-chung would provide feedback, and sometimes Ryan Law Wai-kwong would attend, but “he is really busy, so sometimes he couldn’t make it, and we would proceed without him.”

Chan also confirmed, in response to the prosecution’s inquiry, that they use the work social platform Slack for communication with colleagues. Judge Alex Lee asked why, given that Chan contacts colleagues through email and WhatsApp, they still use Slack. Chan replied, “Actually, I don’t know why the company decided to use it from the beginning. They (the company’s IT department) said everyone in the company should use it… The IT department of Next Digital managed it, and they unilaterally set up internal communication methods. Actually, I don’t know why.”

Judge Lee noted that not only do Apple Daily employees use Slack but also Next Digital employees. Chan agreed. The prosecution asked when they would use Slack more than email and WhatsApp. Chan said, “I actually don’t particularly like to use Slack.” However, when the company encouraged everyone to use it and when there were communications involving multiple people, “then I might write some messages that everyone can see.” But in Chan’s position, she rarely needs to communicate with the entire department.

The prosecution asked if Jimmy Lai uses Slack. Chan stated that he did, “when he announced things with people from the company.” Judge Lee asked if Chan would receive notifications if Lai used Slack. Chan explained that she wouldn’t see it every time Lai used it, but “if he sent it to the whole company, as a member of the company, I would see it, or if he opened a group, like WhatsApp, I would see it.”

10:20 Chan Pui-man’s testimony on her editorial role with Lam Man-chung and Ryan Law Wai-kwong

Chan Pui-man continued, stating that there was an “editorial meeting” every day at 5 p.m. to follow up on the content discussed in the “first meeting,” such as updating news developments, selecting front-page news, and deciding on the layout. Chan mentioned that from 5 p.m. until the newspaper’s deadline, “many new events can happen,” or there can be new changes in the news. Therefore, during this time, decisions are made on how to arrange news, and adjustments can be made later. For instance, if significant news breaks at 9 p.m. that is worth putting on the front page, “then we will make changes accordingly.”

The prosecution asked if Chan, who stated that she used to leave the office at 8 p.m. and headlines are changed at 9 p.m., would discuss this with Lam Man-chung on WhatsApp. Chan indicated, “If it comes to changing A1, he would notify me,” but for other local news, Lam may not necessarily inform her. Judge Alex Lee asked who held the highest rank in the meeting. Chan stated, “If we are talking about print media, it was me.”

The prosecution inquired about the role of Ryan Law Wai-kwong, responsible for digital content as the chief editor. Chan mentioned that Law would also attend the “focus group meeting,” and regarding the “first meeting” and “pre-editing meeting,” Law would participate only if the day’s news was “significant,” and he wanted to coordinate between the online and print versions. She continued to explain that Law would provide opinions, emphasizing that the online version is very busy, and “There was real-time news all day long, and sometimes, even if he couldn’t make it, the meeting would still proceed.”

The prosecution further questioned if Law would attend the “first meeting.” Chan agreed, mentioning that for significant events like the government announcing the budget, Law would attend the “first meeting” because many colleagues responsible for reporting belonged to the online version. “After listening to our meeting, if we had some angles we wanted to pursue, he might help find their reporters to follow up on those angles.” Judge Lee noted Chan’s frequent use of “maybe” and emphasized that she only needs to state her knowledge, not speculate.

The prosecution asked about the frequency of Ryan Law Wai-kwong’s attendance at the “news trimming meeting.” Chan stated that Law attended the ” focus group meeting” around 3 to 4 times per week, with fewer attendances at the “first meeting,” occurring once every few months. She clarified, “Why did I use the example of the budget earlier? It’s also once a year, depending on whether there are significant events happening.”

The prosecution inquired if Law would be present at meetings related to news about the National Security Law. Chan mentioned that the National Security Law was significant news, “but the implementation of the National Security Law was planned for some time, and I remember that during that period, Mr. Ryan Law Wai-kwong did not attend our first meeting every day.” She also expressed uncertainty about Law’s attendance at the “first meeting” more frequently between May and July 2020 compared to before.

10:05 Chan Pui-man: Lam Man-chung “could be considered my deputy”

On the second day of her testimony as the second “accomplice witness,” former associate publisher of Apple Daily, Chan Pui-man, continued her testimony, with Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Ivan Cheung, leading the questioning.

The prosecution continued to inquire about the operation of Apple Daily, including the “focus group meeting.” Chan Pui-man stated that every day at 2:30 p.m. Apple Daily holds a “focus group meeting,” attended by representatives from various departments. They took turns discussing their opinions on the entire newspaper, such as news angles, photo selection, whether they have missed news published by other media, or “whether we did better than others in the same news.” The meeting concluded with her and Executive Chief Editor Lam Man-chung summarizing the content.

The prosecution asked about the difference in roles between her and Lam Man-chung. Chan stated that Lam “could be considered my deputy.” As mentioned in her testimony last week, due to health issues, she could not work for extended periods. Lam Man-chung “kept the newspaper going until the last moment before publication” and took over her duties during her leave.

Chan continued, stating that after the “focus group meeting” comes the “first meeting,” also attended by representatives from various departments, such as the chief of reporters and deputy chief editors. In the “first meeting,” people discussed important news of the day, what news angles to prepare, and then they would select front-page news. Chan mentioned that attendees can provide input, discussing which angles were more crucial and what questions to ask.

Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios inquired about when the newspaper was printed. Chan mentioned that ideally, printing starts before midnight at 12 a.m., but sometimes there are obstacles, and printing at around midnight. “Because I thought around 2 a.m. or as early as possible, newspapers need to be available for sale in Mong Kok.”

10:03 Court in session

09:57 Jimmy Lai enters the courtroom

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