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Day 28: February 19, 2024

The Witness: Real-time Updates | Day 28 of the Trial of Jimmy Lai – Seventh Day of Testimony by Chan Pui-man

Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital and related companies including Apple Daily, faced charges of “conspiring to collude with foreign forces.” The case continued on its 28th day of trial at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court temporarily) on Monday, February 19th. The second prosecution witness, former Vice President of Apple Daily, Chan Pui-man, continued her testimony.

Under questioning by the prosecution, she mentioned that in May 2020, Apple Daily published an advertisement featuring the Chinese characters for “freedom,” (自由) with the character for “Free” (自)appearing to be falling down. The ad included the phrase “Freedom has become a crime. No turning back” and ended with “A group of Hongkongers on the 101th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement.” Chan explained that, based on her understanding and the wording used, netizens had created and shared various “A1 advertisements” on social media platforms. Apple Daily later would published some of these creations in their “Walls Have Ears” (隔牆有耳) section. She also confirmed that Jimmy Lai had created an “A1 advertisement” at that time, which read, “(If you) destroy my rule of law and freedom. I would be left with nothing.”

The case is being presided over by High Court judges designated under the National Security Law, including judges Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wang-tang. 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, who is qualified to practice law in Hong Kong.

16:10 Adjournment

15:52 Lai and Cheung discussed finding commentators to boost Apple Daily subscriptions

The prosecution presented messages between Chan and Yeung Ching-kee on May 8, 2020. Chan forwarded Patreon links of current affairs commentators Stephen Shiu, Simon Lau Sai Leung, and writer Chan Wan Hoi Henry to Yeung. She explained, “Given the message was to Yeung, it has to be related to the commentary section.” She recalled that Lai himself or through Cheung Kim-hung told her that they wanted Simon Lau Sai Leung to help write commentary articles. Yeung then asked her for the authors’ contact information, so she sent the information to him.

Judge Alex Lee asked if Chan recommended the three authors. Chan said no,Simon Lau Sai Leung was specifically requested by Lai, “Lai liked his articles,” and the other two were not her suggestions, but she couldn’t remember why she forwarded them to Yeung. The prosecution further asked why she mentioned the commentators. Chan explained that at the time, the company planned to promote paid subscriptions, “They all wanted to know who was on Patreon,” and how to be popular and attract readers.

The prosecution further asked about the perspectives of the three individuals. Chan described Simon Lau Sai Leung as “closer to the democratic camp”; Stephen Shiu commented on current affairs, “he would be relatively more critical of the government,” and she didn’t know Chan Wan Hoi Henry very well. Chan reiterated that finding commentators was not her idea, “It seems that the lunch box meeting mentioned that this platform (Patreon) is doing well, and Lai and Cheung said we could refer to it.”

15:35 Chan confirmed giving opinions on some of Lai’s articles

The prosecution showed a conversation between Lai and Chan in May 2020, where Chan stated, “what worries me is not that Hong Kong’s autonomy will be taken away by Beijing, but that this right will be gradually lost in the hands of some people in Hong Kong.” Lai replied, “Thank you. Lai,” and Chan again said, “Useless, redundant—unnecessary.” Lai responded, “I was being superfluous. Thank you. Lai.”

Chan explained that Lai had asked her for excerpts of statements made by Chris Patten around 1997, specifically the “exact wording,” so she searched on Google and sent it to him. As for her comment “Useless, redundant—unnecessary,” she explained that Lai had asked her for synonyms in Chinese, so that’s why the conversation happened.

The prosecution continued to show Lai’s column “Success and Failure with a Laugh” in which he quoted, “Chris Patten said that Hong Kong’s sovereignty will be gradually lost in the hands of some people, and I believe it. These ‘certain people’ are those who, for their own interests, are attached to the Beijing authorities and betray Hong Kong, unfortunately including some who should uphold the judiciary. It’s really sad.” The prosecution asked if these statements were provided by Chan to Lai, and Chan confirmed.

The prosecution then quoted from Lai’s article, “At the request of the judge, I was sentenced to a ban on leaving the country and reporting to the police station every week for the crime of intimidation.” The prosecution asked if Lai had discussed this incident with Chan and other colleagues. Chan said that at the time, Lai mentioned a conflict with a journalist from another media organization. The prosecution also quoted a phrase from the article, “Needlessly drawing a snake and adding feet,” (無謂畫蛇添足了) and asked if it was the same as what she sent on WhatsApp. Chan said, “Lai said he would use these four words.”

15:15 Chan confirmed that Apple Daily had invited celebrities to promote subscriptions

The prosecution pointed out that on May 6, 2020, Lai sent a clip to Martin Lee, and in the clip, Lee said, “To me, Apple Daily is a way of life. Every morning when I wake up, I read Apple Daily during breakfast. Or I say something that many people don’t know, it’s Jimmy in 1995. He told me that he wanted to start a newspaper…” Chan recalled that it was probably close to the anniversary of the newspaper or an online subscription drive, where celebrities were invited to express their views on Apple Daily. The prosecution asked if there were celebrities promoting Apple Daily subscriptions at that time, and Chan said there probably were, but she couldn’t remember who.

15:00 Chan confirms the creation of one advertisement
Published under the name of Jimmy Lai

The prosecution continued to show a design with Jimmy Lai’s signature, featuring an elderly person and a young person walking together, both being overshadowed by a large red star, with the text “”(If you) destroy my rule of law and freedom. I would be left with nothing” and signed by Jimmy Lai. The prosecution asked, how did this design become part of the publication? Chan responded that Lai probably created it himself and then handed it to his colleagues at Apple Daily, who published Lai’s design along with other people’s creations. Judge Alex Lee asked if Chan could confirm that Lai did indeed do this. Chan indicated that this design was published under Lai’s name, “The words were definitely written by him, I recognize his signature,” but she couldn’t remember how this design ultimately became part of the article.

The prosecution then showed a conversation between Jimmy Lai and Cheung Kim-hung, showing that on May 3, 2020, the day before the relevant advertisement was published, Chang sent the layout design to Lai. Chan confirmed.

14:55 The prosecution asked about why the Political Section used the pen name “Ba Fang” (“Eight Directions”).

The prosecution then pointed out that the article ended with “Jimmy Lai of Next Digital, also created his A1, ‘Destroying my rule of law and freedom, I have nothing,’ which Ba Fang believes is the sentiment of the majority of Hong Kong people.” The prosecution asked if this content falls under “soft news.” Chan described that at the time, they did not see it as “big news,” because Lai had “taken the A1 advertisement to create, so saying this may be his consistent stance,” so at the time, there was no special emphasis on it, and the article mentioned others, including a well-known cartoonist and “KOL,” who were also involved in the creation. “He (Lai) is one of the contributors to the entire content.”

The prosecution further asked, who is “Ba Fang” mentioned in the article? Chan said that the column “Walls Have Ears” is generally written by colleagues from the Political Section, and Ba Fang is the pen name they use. The prosecution asked why the Political Section would write under a pen name. Chan described that the column “Walls Have Ears” and the pen name Li Ba Fang had existed before she joined Apple Daily, and she was not part of the Political Section. She guessed that the column was used to “write some political gossip,” written in Cantonese, different from traditional news reporting. Because the Political Section often chats with people in the political circle, although it may not be suitable for news reporting, “if it’s interesting, gossipy, juicy, they will write about it.”

14:45 The prosecution showed the “Freedom” advertisement with the character falling
Chan indicated it was a collective creation by netizens.

The prosecution showed an advertisement published by Apple Daily in May 2020, with the Chinese character for “Freedom” displayed, with the character for “free” falling down, accompanied by the phrase “Freedom has become a crime. No turning back,” and signed off as “a group of Hongkongers on the 101th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement.”

The prosecution asked, how did this advertisement become part of the “collective second creation” of Apple Daily articles? Chan explained that, based on her understanding and the wording used, netizens individually posted different “A1 advertisements” on social media, then “added their own creativity,” Apple Daily staff saw these creations online, found them “interesting and creative,” and decided to publish them in the “Walls Have Ears” column. Chan added that the “Walls Have Ears” column generally publishes more “gossip” and soft articles, including “gossip about the political circle,” such as when the Financial Secretary announced the budget, if his wife wore clothes matching the colors of the budget cover, it would be published in “Walls Have Ears,” “clearly and concisely.”

14:30 Court session begins.

14:27 Jimmy Lai enters the court.

Jimmy Lai, wearing a beige suit jacket, entered the court, smiling, waving, and blowing kisses to his family.

The Witness

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