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Day 27: February 09, 2024

The Witness: Jimmy Lai Trial Day 27 | Chan Pui-man: Lai thinks China concealed epidemic information. Apple Daily tried to make relevant news a big story

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital and three related companies associated with Apple Daily, stands accused of “colluding with foreign forces” and other charges. The trial, which began on the 27th day of proceedings, resumed on Friday (February 9) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court temporarily), with the second prosecution witness, former Apple Daily associate publisher Chan Pui-man, continuing her testimony.

The prosecution mentioned the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Chan Pui-man confirmed that Apple Daily used the term “Wuhan pneumonia” at the time. She also indicated that Jimmy Lai believed the Chinese government was concealing information, and his views could influence Apple Daily’s reporting, such as amplifying or highlighting related news.

The prosecution also presented a column written by Jimmy Lai in April of the same year, which mentioned, “What we can persist in, as Chan Pui-man said, is the courage to do what we know is impossible.” Chan explained that she might have written similar content in her column, referring to the time when the social movement had largely subsided, but there were still people advocating for universal suffrage and the five demands. “Actually, by that time, we knew those things wouldn’t come to fruition,” she said, expressing admiration for those who continued to persist. The case was adjourned until February 19 for further proceedings.

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, Barrister Steven Kwan, and Marc Corlett, a Barrister qualified to practice in Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Chan mentioned that she would follow up on the matters discussed in the “lunch box meetings.” “Mr. Lai will have opinions on many things,” she added.

On the sixth day of testimony, Chan Pui-man continued to be questioned by prosecutor Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan regarding meeting notes written by then-Apple Daily CEO Cheung Kim-hung about the “lunch box meetings.” One point mentioned, “For international topics, we can try to find someone to interview, we can hire local freelancers.” Chan Pui-man explained that international news includes news that was more widely covered internationally at the time or news about Hong Kong that was of international interest at the time.

Another point raised was, “We can do follow-up features on major news every week, for example, this week we can cover how those arrested in the anti-extradition protests are doing now?” Chan stated that Apple Daily eventually did follow up on the reporting of those arrested in the protests, but she couldn’t recall if it was published in the form of a feature. Additionally, the meeting notes mentioned, “Major news can lead to different features, such as the extradition issue, real estate sales of listed companies, businesspeople who have been extradited, or the one-year anniversary of the US-China trade war etc.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked, to Chan’s knowledge, whether Apple Daily eventually “led” anything. Chan indicated that some feature topics were developed, “I think when Mr. Cheung used the term ‘lead,’ he meant to explore more feature topics to meet Mr. Lai’s desire for more topics, or to make it more magazine-like… the topics are usually what Mr. Lai is interested in and wants to see.”

The prosecution asked why they needed to follow up on the meeting notes from the lunch box meetings. Chan explained that in the subsequent lunchbox meetings, they would follow up on the progress of the previous meeting, emphasizing that “Mr. Lai will have opinions on many things.”

Chan described “Stand News” as “liberal” in its stance.

One point in the meeting notes stated, “for weekend commentary, try to find authors from The Initium, Stand News, or Citizen News who write well.” The prosecution asked Chan to describe the reporting perspectives of the three online media outlets mentioned. Chan explained that “The Initium” covers more news across the Taiwan Strait, and in addition to Hong Kong, it also features articles written by Chinese mainlanders. “Stand News” frequently live streamed during protest activities. Chan described the stance of “Stand News” as “liberal,” adding, “Personally, I feel that ‘Stand News’ tends to support democratic values and freedom, as well as human rights issues, and also leans towards supporting LGBTQ+ rights.”

Chan indicated that Lai questioned whether the Chinese government concealed the epidemic and agreed that Apple Daily’s reporting was influenced by Lai.

The prosecution then asked about Apple Daily’s coverage of the epidemic in Hong Kong, which began in early 2020. Chan recalled that the reporting angle at the time included tracing the origin of the epidemic, the latest situation of the epidemic, and the latest medical discoveries. Apple Daily used the term “Wuhan pneumonia” at that time. Chan added that the reporting also focused on whether the Chinese government had concealed the origin of the epidemic and whether foreign countries would question China’s credibility. Chan believed that Lai held these views, “He thought that the Chinese government was concealing [information],” and Lai’s views would influence Apple Daily’s reporting.

Chan confirmed that they would amplify relevant news regarding Lai’s views on the epidemic and make it a bigger story.

The prosecution then presented Lai’s column article dated February 9, 2020, titled “Wuhan Plague, The CCP’s Funeral Bell,” and asked Chan whether the term “Wuhan pneumonia” or “plague” was stronger. Chan said “plague” was stronger, and reiterated that if Lai was concerned about the issue of epidemic concealment, when scientists, the medical community, and foreign governments questioned whether China was concealing the origin, “we would make it bigger or more obvious.”

The prosecution also cited a message from Chan to Lai on March 4, 2020, which showed “Wuhan pneumonia outbreak, CCP official media: the world owes China a thank you,” along with a link to the article. Chan explained, under questioning, that because Lai “always talked about China concealing [information], seeing this report seems to be responding to his viewpoint, so I sent it to him.” It should be an article from Taiwan’s Apple Daily, but she emphasized that Taiwan’s Apple Daily operated independently in terms of editorial decisions.

The prosecution asked why Apple Daily compared Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The prosecution also presented an article published in March 2020 titled “Proposed Use of Anti-Terrorism Laws to Prosecute Explosives Case: Chris Tang Learns from Xinjiang’s Iron-fisted Approach to Suppress Protests,” with “Learning from the CCP” written at the top of the page. Chen explained that “Learning from the CCP” meant that at the time, the Commissioner of Police intended to prosecute the defendants in the explosives case using the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, “similar to Xinjiang in China, where explosive cases are treated like terrorist activities.”

Regarding the comparison between Hong Kong and Xinjiang in the text of the article, the prosecution asked why such a comparison was made. Chen indicated that she was off the day before the article was published but after reading the article, she believed that due to the cultural differences between Hong Kong and the mainland, “Xinjiang is different from the so-called Han culture.” From the news, it can be seen that there are discussions about “Xinjiang independence” or opposition to the CCP in Xinjiang, and she believed that the Chinese government would take action against terrorism activities in Xinjiang.

The prosecution pointed out that in a column, Jimmy Lai quoted Chan as saying, “明知不可為而為的氣魄” (“the courage to do what is impossible”).

The prosecution also presented Lai’s column published on April 26, 2020, titled “Defying Tyranny’s Suppression, Our Courage Persists,” which mentioned, “What keeps us going now is our cherish for the rule of law and our love for freedom. We have no illusions about the tyranny of the CCP. What we can persist in, as Chan Pui-man said, is our courage to do what we knowis impossible. Hong Kongers, the only thing we need to fear is fear itself.”

The prosecution asked if Chan had made similar statements. Chan indicated that she probably had “written similar things” in her own column but couldn’t recall the exact context at the time. She added that she believed because there were still social movements at the time, although they had largely subsided, there were still people coming out to fight for universal suffrage and the five demands. “In fact, by that time, we all knew that those things wouldn’t be realized. If I were to think back to how I felt at that time, I admired the perseverance of those people.”

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