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Day 29: February 20, 2024

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Case | Chan Pui-man: Jimmy Lai established the English version of Apple Daily to ‘go international’ hoping foreign leaders would subscribe to show support (16:28).

Founder of Next Digital Jimmy Lai and three related companies of Apple Daily were involved in a conspiracy case to collude with foreign forces. Today marks the 29th day of the trial, with Apple Daily’s then associate publisher Chan Pui-man continuing her testimony.

Ming Pao provides live updates of the trial.

【16:31】 Recess, trial to continue tomorrow.

【16:00】 On May 12th, Jimmy Lai held a meeting to discuss the English edition of Apple Daily. WhatsApp messages that Chan Pui-man couldn’t attend due to other matters, so Lai sent her the recording. The prosecution provided the recording transcript for Chan’s reference. After reviewing it, she stated that she and her colleagues from the China desk followed up on coordinating the English version’s work, such as translating certain types of Chinese news into English, particularly related to human rights issues in China and Hong Kong’s police violence and human rights. The judge, Alex Lee Wan-tang, inquired about the type of news Lai referred to, and Chan added that it included human rights news from China and issues concerning police violence and human rights in Hong Kong.

Before the recess, Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang expressed concern about the progress of the prosecution’s main questioning. Associate director of public prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan admitted that they had underestimated the time needed and now anticipate completion by Thursday. Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping also reminded Cheung to keep track of the trial’s progress.

【15:37】 Regarding the launch of the English version, the prosecution continued to display group messages, indicating that Jimmy Lai had proposed “mining” articles written by Ren Zhiqiang and others or translating excerpts of Fang Fang’s diary daily to provide additional content for the English version, aiming to make it more dynamic. Chan stated that Ren was likely a mainland human rights lawyer, and she remembered Cheung Kim-hung discussing whether the then English edition editor-in-chief Fung Wai-kong was suitable. “We all had no objections.”

【15:13】 Chan Pui-man confirmed that Mark Clifford was a member of Next Digital’s board of directors, but she only found out later. When asked about the timing of her awareness, Chan mentioned a case involving Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate that Apple Daily was involved in. At that time, top management responsible for finance was either arrested or invited to assist in the investigation. Concerns were raised by accounting department colleagues about the inability to issue checks for payment if senior management couldn’t be bailed. Afterward, either Lai or Cheung Kim-hung appointed her, along with then editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong and others, as directors. Chan recalled Lai inviting Clifford as a guest on a “Live Chat” program. However, her most vivid memory was after her arrest in June 2021 when the company’s funds were frozen, and many colleagues were worried about the company’s closure and related compensation issues. She represented her colleagues inquiring with the board of directors.

The prosecution asked if Chan had consulted the board about suspending operations. Chan said, “My opinion is that we should end it, because I can’t protect my colleagues. For example, if they raise questions, and we continue, will it cause problems for them? I can’t protect them… and even if I could, the original board…” However, Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping interrupted Chan’s response, stating that this part is a “side matters” and that she only needs to focus on answering the questions.

【14:50】 Another message showed then Apple Daily News Director Cheung Chi-wai suggesting, “I think there should be a way to go international and release our Apple English version content.” This involved using the Patreon platform to publish newsletters, eliminating the need for Apple Daily to establish its own subscription platform. The prosecution asked why the term “go international” was used. Chan said she understood Cheung’s meaning but wouldn’t use that term herself. She explained that “go international” was a common term in social movements at the time.

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang then inquired whether Apple Daily had participated in any form of activism. Chan responded, “I think I wouldn’t use the word ‘participate’, but our attitude at the time was more supportive and understanding of the demonstrators’ situation.” They supported the demands of the demonstrators, such as their desire for universal suffrage, which aligned with Jimmy Lai’s consistent stance on supporting democracy.

Chan further explained that the demonstrators’ concept of the “international line” involved gaining international support to increase the chances of the movement’s success. If the demonstrators were suppressed, the international community could speak out on their behalf. This understanding was similar to Lai’s desire to gain international support through the English version, which was a form of protection.

【14:32】 Court in session.

The prosecution continued to present messages from the “English News” group on May 10, 2020. Cheung Kim-hung summarized the preliminary plans for the English edition after discussions, including selecting news, columns, and features from the day for translation or compilation into a newsletter. Chan Pui-man supplemented in court that later the company hired Fung Wai-kong as the executive editor of the English edition. The selection of articles for translation followed Lai’s principles, focusing on Chinese news or topics of interest to foreign readers, and they were relatively critical, such as China-US relations.

【13:01】 Recess.

【12:46】 The prosecution mentioned that on May 11, 2020, Jimmy Lai mentioned to Chan about an article by “Hong Kong Watch” founder Benedict Rogers and asked her to see if it was worth publishing and to respond to him as soon as possible. Apple Daily published “Benedict Rogers: The Worst Mother’s Day” the next day, quoting Rogers saying that May 10th was a “terrible day” in Hong Kong. Chan confirmed there were still demonstrations in May that year.

Chan described Lai as appearing “anxious” at the time, hoping for a quick response from her. She felt it would be better to report Roger’s views simply as news. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if it would still have news value if it wasn’t Lai who brought it to her attention but if she handled it independently. Chan stated that it depended on the available space, “If I have more important news, I may not publish it.”

Chan continued, saying that if the article wasn’t brought to her by Lai, she would weigh it against all the news of the day. “If I have time to look at what Rogers is saying now, that is, he wouldn’t be completely unreportable or worthless,” but “I may not put it out in such a prominent position” and might publish it alongside other news. Chan agreed that if it wasn’t Lai, the final publication format might be different.

【12:20】 Another segment of the message mentioned, “Subscriptions of foreign leaders is equivalent to gaining their support. Of course, they understand this. They understand why this is done. Now is a good time to launch the English version, attracting their attention.” Chan Pui-man confirmed that this was one of the purposes of setting up the English version, and she also believed that Lai felt that if foreign leaders subscribed to the English version of Apple Daily, “it is a statement of support for Apple Daily and him (Lai).”

【12:12】 Court in session.

The prosecution continued to present messages from the “English News” WhatsApp group, where on May 10, Jimmy Lai forwarded a message with his assistant Mark Simon, discussing the potential effects of inviting then US Vice President Mike Pence to subscribe to Apple Daily.

“Imagine the visibility and influence it would bring, it would also bring us a lot of support. I know this is almost impossible, but can we try?”

Chan Pui-man supplemented in court that she understood Jimmy Lai believed that if Pence also became a reader of Apple Daily’s English edition, it would significantly increase its visibility and gain substantial support in American society. “If Apple Daily were suppressed, it might garner support from American society, thus exerting pressure,” especially pressure from the United States, which was one of the purposes of launching the English edition of Apple Daily. As for what constitutes “pressure,” Chan explained, “It may involve condemning the suppression in terms of speech or taking actions such as sanctions?”

【11:27】 Early recess.

【11:12】 Another message showed that Cheung Chi-wai, the director of the news platform at the time, listed suggestions for the English edition, including contacting Yvonne Tong, a reporter for the “WHO turmoil,” and Brian Leung Kai-ping, based in the United States, to write articles, adding English subtitles to major local news, and managing English content on Twitter. Lai subsequently mentioned in the group chat, “I will ask Mark to work out the method and channel for disseminating this news in the United States first.” Chan estimated that Lai believed Mark Simon could handle it because he had contacts with foreign media or was more familiar with them, believing that he could promote it.

In the group chat, Chan suggested, “In addition to translation, can we ask someone to directly write English commentary on Hong Kong issues?” She explained in court, “Since we’re going to pay for translation anyway,” it would be more ideal to have native English speakers translate. Additionally, since the target audience of the English edition is primarily foreign readers, she believed Cheung Kim-hung and Jimmy Lai should consider “tailor-made (articles) for their own target readers because I don’t think our print newspaper needs to cater to the tastes of the English edition.”

【11:04】 The prosecution continued to cite another group of messages. Cheung Chi-wai, the director of the news platform at the time, stated in the group,

“If we want foreign readers to actively subscribe to our English edition newsletter, we need to effectively promote it and reach these readers. Therefore, we need to think about how to promote it.”

Cheung Chi-wai also mentioned that the ultimate goal is to “go international” and suggested advertising in English and American newspapers such as The New York Times and Financial Times to attract subscribers.

The prosecution asked about Cheung Chi-wai ‘s role in the Apple Daily English edition. Chan stated that since technical matters were involved in setting up the English edition, Cheung had to be involved, but she wasn’t sure if he was ultimately responsible for promotion. Chan agreed that “going international” was one of the effects Jimmy Lai wanted to achieve by establishing the English edition.

【10:51】 Chan Pui-man continued to testify that ultimately, the English version of “Apple Daily” was handled by staff from the online news department. They would select certain Chinese articles from “Apple Daily” to translate into English. Jimmy Lai often monitored the English edition and would frequently express his opinions to Cheung Kim-hung regarding what content should be included in the English version. Colleagues from the English edition would then follow Cheung’s instructions to select news accordingly.

Chan continued to explain that the English version was published online. She had once inquired with other management members about the necessity of also publishing a physical English edition, but ultimately, they decided against it. She explained that, as she understood it, this decision was based on the fact that foreign readers would find it more difficult to access newspapers. Additionally, Chan confirmed that the “Summer of Freedom” special edition was one example where both Chinese and English versions were published simultaneously.

【10:30】The prosecution continued to cite an article mentioning the two main aspects of the “added value” of Apple Daily, namely, “one is gossip-style justice, and the other is international promotion.” In response to the prosecution’s inquiry, Chan Pui-man supplemented that Apple Daily also followed the direction of “international promotion” in establishing the English version, which was aimed at “attracting international attention to what’s happening in Hong Kong.” According to what Jimmy Lai described in the group, “This would have a protective effect on Apple Daily,” if the English version could attract international readers. Once Apple Daily faces pressure, “I think the international community will support it.”

The prosecution further asked if the English version aimed to attract the attention of a particular country, to which Chan replied, “I think, for example, the United States, because Jimmy Lai has mentioned it would be best if some American political figures subscribed because of this, then that would be great.”

【10:05】 The prosecution continued with Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan’s questioning, expanding the scope to Apple Daily’s plan to launch an English edition in May 2020. Jimmy Lai set up the WhatsApp group “English News” on May 10, with members including then publisher Cheung Kim-hung, Chan Pui-man, and others. Chan Pui-man stated that Lai had mentioned the idea of launching the English edition orally at events such as “lunch box meetings” a few days before setting up the group.

Lai mentioned in the group on May 10:

“Today, Fung Hei-gon suggested that an English-translated news electronic version might be worth considering, especially now that the translation website’s costs are low and fast.”

Lai consulted with senior management and then discussed together how to launch the English edition. Chan confirmed that the “Fung Hei-gon” mentioned in the message was columnist Fung Hei-gon, who wrote an article in Apple Daily on May 10 titled “The one million people not supporting Apple Daily,” suggesting that Apple Daily provide English news to break the monopoly of the South China Morning Post.

【10:02】 Court in session.

Ming Pao Reporters Celine Tam, Tong Bik-yu

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