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Day 30: February 21, 2024

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Case | After the National Security Law, Apple Daily’s front page titled “The Evil Law Takes Effect, Two Systems End” – Chan Pui-man: Title Drafted According to Lai’s Views (16:27)

The founder of Next Media, Jimmy Lai, and three companies related to Apple Daily are on trial for the 30th day over allegations of conspiring to collude with foreign forces. Chan Pui-man, the then Deputy President of Apple Daily, continued to testify.

Ming Pao live-texted the trial proceedings.

  • At 16:15, the court adjourned.
  • At 15:50, Apple Daily published a front-page report on July 1, 2020, when the National Security Law took effect, titled “The evil law takes effect, the end of two systems,” along with a picture of a figure covered by the Chinese flag. The prosecution asked how the headline was devised. Chan said it was “based on Mr. Lai’s consistent opinions on the National Security Law,” devised by the then Deputy Editor-in-Chief Lam Man-chung and other editors. She also mentioned Lai expressing concerns in writings or company meetings like the “lunch box meetings” that “it would be difficult for the media to operate and the end of ‘one country, two systems'” after the National Security Law took effect.
  • At 15:36, Cheung Kim-hung, the then publisher of Apple Daily, formed a WhatsApp group “National Security Law Response Committee” on June 22, including Chan Pui-man. The prosecution asked why Lai was not a member of the group, and Chan explained that not having Lai in the group allowed for freer discussion, “because if he put his opinion in it, basically his idea would dominate everyone else’s opinions, turning it not into a discussion.” Cheung also wanted to gather everyone’s opinions before expressing them to Lai.

The prosecution presented group messages discussing whether to include bylines for articles. Chan added that the discussion was in response to the impending National Security Law, as employees feared legal consequences if reports with “problematic sentences about protest scenes” were signed, but some thought bylines were necessary, leading to discussions among senior management about the arrangement.

The prosecution asked if the issue of bylines needed to be reported to Lai. Chan Pui-man responded, “I didn’t think it needed to be reported at the time, and even if it had to be, I wouldn’t be the one to report it.”

  • At 15:20, the prosecution presented a front-page report from Apple Daily on June 18, “Request to slow down clearance to prevent trampling and injury, social worker blocking police office sentenced to a year in prison,” mentioning Judge Don So Man-lung’s statement that the white-shirted men on July 21 “bravely confronted” the situation. The prosecution asked what angle the report took, and Chan Pui-man testified that the report was “controversial regarding the sentencing” and recalled the public opinion at the time, including the social welfare sector, feeling the sentence was “too harsh.”
  • At 15:02, the prosecution continued to show that on June 3, Lai forwarded a press release from Luke de Pulford, a member of the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, titled “The Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China,” to Chan, stating that photos could be sent if needed. On June 5, Apple Daily published “Condemning the push for Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law as trampling on human rights, parliaments from 9 countries form a coalition to resist the CCP,” reporting the formation of the “Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China” by members of parliaments from nine countries. Chan Pui-man testified that after receiving the information, she passed it on to other staff members and confirmed that the report was written in response to Lai’s forwarded press release.

Lai also forwarded five messages from his assistant, Mark Simon, on June 4, mentioning a meeting between then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the “Mothers of Tiananmen,” with Pompeo’s team hoping Apple Daily would cover it. Chan replied, “Seen in today’s paper, thanks.” Lai then sent a response from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, asking Chan to consider adding it to the article. The next day, Apple Daily published “Li Lanju’s meeting with the U.S. Secretary calls for action, ‘Hong Kong faces a second Tiananmen,'” mentioning Pompeo’s meeting with leaders of the 1989 democracy movement and quoting Rubio’s statement of standing with Hong Kongers and other oppressed peoples.

Chan Pui-man confirmed that the report included Rubio’s response forwarded by Lai, and that the meeting between Pompeo and the leaders of the 1989 democracy movement had already been reported online by Apple Daily before Lai sent the information.

  • At 14:53, on June 1, 2020, Lai asked Chan Pui-man again, “Do you have any material for me to feed to Twitter?” Chan replied with a link to the report “’Hong Kong’s National Security Law’ Maria Tam Wai-chu urging citizens to march, ‘End one-party dictatorship’ slogan flash mob, Lee Cheuk-yan lashes out: Villains assist tyranny in destroying freedom of speech,” indicating that this report attracted a lot of attention that day.

On the same day, Lai mentioned in the group that Luke de Pulford, who participated in disqualifying Junius Ho’s degree, was promoting our Apple Daily English edition on Twitter and even said he was interested in writing a column for our English edition. The prosecution showed a screenshot of Luke de Pulford tagging Jimmy Lai on Twitter. Chan indicated that she was aware at that time that Luke de Pulford intended to write for Apple Daily, although she herself did not use Twitter often.

Chan also confirmed that the next day Apple Daily published a front-page advertisement “an Apple a day keeps the fake news away” to promote the English edition, but she did not know who came up with the title.

At 14:35, the court continued to show records from May 27, where Lai mentioned he had written a piece for The New York Times, with the request that the article focus on the National Security Law. He asked Chan, “Do you have any observations for me?” Chan’s reply mentioned, “Once the National Security institutions are stationed in Hong Kong, after dealing with the so-called ‘small number’ of ‘national security threats,’ to justify its existence and expansion, they will continue to fabricate charges against others”; “Not allowing foreign judges to handle National Security Law cases is also a complete violation of Hong Kong’s rule of law, Basic Law, and ‘one country, two systems’.” Lai responded, “Very good. Thank you.”

Chan explained in court that she shared social opinions and concerns about the National Security Law with Lai, estimating that Lai’s article was eventually published in The New York Times.

  • 14:31 Court session began.
  • 13:01 Lunch break.
  • 12:55 The prosecution presented Apple Daily’s front-page publication from May 24 of the “One Letter, One Hongkonger to Save Hong Kong” campaign and its subsequent report on May 25 titled “Thousands march, sounding the horn of defiance against the evil law without fear.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked whether Chan Pui-man was aware of a protest happening on May 24 when launching the campaign. Chan answered that people often took to the streets on weekends, but she was uncertain about the size of the protest. Judge Lee further inquired whether the timing of the campaign coinciding with the protest was intentional or coincidental. Chan replied, “Mr. Lai did not mention choosing that day for any particular reason because he anticipated a protest.”
  • 12:47 After publishing the “One Letter, One Person to Save Hong Kong” front page on May 24, Apple Daily republished the same content on May 27. Chan stated that there was criticism of the action at the time, including from former secretary-general of Demosistō, Joshua Wong. Consequently, Chan forwarded Wong’s post to Jimmy Lai, “because I hoped he wouldn’t continue pushing this matter. I remember Mr. Lai’s attitude was that although some people around him opposed it, he still wanted to go ahead with it.”

The prosecution showed a screenshot of Chan forwarding the post, with Lai replying, “What he said is not important,” reiterating, “We now have to do anything we can to get support, I know many people disagree with this, including Martin.” Chan clarified in court that “Martin” refers to Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party.

  • 12:32 The prosecution continued to present Apple Daily’s front-page publication of the “One Letter, One Hongkonger to Save Hong Kong” campaign on May 24. Chan Pui-man testified that Jimmy Lai “suddenly came up with this idea” the day before the publication. She learned about Lai’s plan around noon that day and did not agree with it, so she returned to the company early to understand, “wanting to clarify if we really had to do this.”

Chan continued to recall discussing the arrangement with the then publisher Cheung Kim-hung and Lai, “I expressed that I didn’t think it was suitable to proceed in this manner, but Mr. Lai was very determined to go ahead with it.” Chan also questioned why Lai didn’t use his personal name for placing the advertisement in Apple Daily but insisted on using the newspaper’s name to launch the campaign, yet Lai stood by his decision, “not listening to, nor accepting my suggestions,” and she felt Cheung Kim-hung was “not very keen on the idea either.”

The prosecution further inquired about the purpose behind Lai launching the campaign. Chan stated the campaign was in response to the impending National Security Law, hoping that then U.S. President Donald Trump would pay attention to the issue, “then possibly not knowing what to do to prevent the event from happening.”

  • 12:15 The prosecution continued to show WhatsApp messages between Jimmy Lai and Chan Pui-man. On May 22, Lai sent a voice message asking Chan if she could select some important news each day for him to post on Twitter (now called X). On May 23, Chan Pui-man sent a report from Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) titled “NPC and CPPCC members support the establishment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong,” featuring a photo of Henry Tang Ying-yen and other CPPCC members holding a banner “Support National Security Legislation to Safeguard One Country, Two Systems.”

In their messages, Chan mentioned, “Traitors selling out Hong Kong, a sanctions list?”

Lai replied, “I understand, good suggestion.”

Chan further noted, “The statements made by This photo and Tang have disgusted many Hong Kong people,” with Lai responding that he had posted the news on Twitter titled, “Should the US government put these people on the sanction list?” The prosecution presented Lai’s Twitter post, also showing the mentioned title.

Chan Pui-man explained in court that at the time, Lai asked her to find some hot news topics for him to post on Twitter, “So I just fulfilled his request, searching online for what netizens or many people were discussing that day, and found it for him.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if this meant Lai accepted Chan’s suggestion to post that particular tweet. Chan Pui-man agreed but emphasized that she “didn’t give him the complete sentence.”

  • 12:02 Court session began.
  • 11:26 Early break.
  • 11:15 The messages continued to show Chan Pui-man asking on May 13:

“Do we need to extract good commentary for publication? Like a weekly page?”

Jimmy Lai replied, “Of course, the good ones should be used.”

Chan Pui-man added in court that she wanted to reconfirm whether the English version’s commentary articles needed to be translated into Chinese for publication. Although Lai said good articles could be published, she did not follow through, and she was unsure whether Yeung Ching-Kee, who was responsible for the forum section at the time, had translated English articles for publication. She also did not discuss the issue of translating commentary articles with Yeung Ching-Kee.

  • 10:43 Cheung Chi-wai sent another message the same day mentioning a colleague from the Hong Kong news static group’s investigative report on “Prison’s Xinjiang” winning the “2020 Human Rights Press Award.” The prosecution showed a screenshot of the electronic version of the report, starting with “The party says, ‘Don’t believe in God, don’t believe in your family, just believe in me.'”

Chan noted the report was about the situation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang being arrested and “re-educated” in correctional facilities, suggesting it should also be published in the print edition. She did not specifically click on the link sent by Cheung Chi-wai, as she had already seen the report and knew it had won an award. At one point, the prosecution asked if the aforementioned content was the main theme of the report? Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang expressed some confusion, pointing out that the article was published 2 to 3 years ago. Instead of testing the witness’s memory, if the prosecution had the complete report, they should provide it directly to Chan Pui-man.

  • 10:24 The prosecution displayed the front-page advertisement, featuring slogans “Full support from Hongkongers in America,” “Five demands, not one less,” and “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” Chan Pui-man stated the advertisement was unrelated to “crowdfunding” and was managed by the advertising department, which was then responsible to the then publisher Cheung Kim-hung. She was unclear on how the advertising department sourced clients, as it was not within her purview. She would only be notified of changes to the page layout if a client placed an advertisement.

Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping asked who would notify her of changes to the page layout. Chan said she did not remember, as it involved more than one person. As for who decided if an advertisement was important enough to be placed on the front page, Chan answered, “It’s decided by the client. If they pay enough for a front-page advertisement, it will be placed there,” as the front page is the most expensive.

  • 10:11 The prosecution showed a message from May 13, 2020, where Jimmy Lai forwarded a message to Chan Pui-man for the then Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong:

“Wai-kwong, Emily Lau Wai-hing writes well in English, please invite her to write. Thank you. Lai.”

Chan Pui-man indicated that Lai forwarding the message to her was simply to keep her informed. She did not remember assisting in finding English article writers, nor did she have much recollection of whether Liu had written for Apple Daily, “Even if there was, it wasn’t much.”

The same day, another “English News” group message was sent by the then Director of the Digital News Platform, Cheung Chi-wai:

“This group is crowdfunding for a front-page advertisement in Apple Daily, still short of over $7,800 to reach the goal!”

The message included a link. Chan stated the advertisement was placed by Hongkongers overseas, but she was not certain until she saw Cheung’s message.

The prosecution asked Chan if she knew why the advertisement was mentioned in the group. Chan began to answer, “I think…” but was interrupted by Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang, who noted Chan often used phrases like “I believe” during her testimony, making it difficult for the court to determine whether she truly knew the answer to the question or was merely speculating. He reminded her to only answer with what she knew.

  • 10:06 Court session began.

Ming Pao Reporters Celine Tam, Tong Bik-yu

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