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Day 32: February 26, 2024

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Case | Chan Pui-man: Lai Once Unhappy with Apple Daily for Being More Critical of Trump, Gave No Editorial Directions After Arrest

The trial against Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Media, and three related companies of Apple Daily for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign forces continued today. Chan Pui-man, the then Associate Publisher of Apple Daily, continued her testimony. The prosecution and the judge focused on Jimmy Lai’s involvement in the editorial decisions of Apple Daily. Chan stated that if Jimmy Lai “highly valued a piece of news, sometimes he would give clear instructions to maximize its impact.” At times, he would issue instructions through press releases, such as urging Apple Daily to “amplify the voices of protesters” during the Legislative Council clash on July 1, 2019.

The prosecution used various reports from Apple Daily to highlight Jimmy Lai’s involvement in editorial decisions, including the report the day after the August 31, 2019, Prince Edward station conflict, titled “Hong Kong Police’s Massive Arrests Lead to Yuen Long Terror Attack 2.0; Special Tactical Squad Beats Citizens Indiscriminately.” Chan indicated that Jimmy Lai’s political views “could be said to have” influenced the angle of the report because Lai believed “police brutality violated justice,” and many videos captured that night showed citizens being “viciously beaten” in train compartments, leading Apple Daily to report the incident on the front page. The report questioned whether the police used excessive force that night. Judge Alex Lee, however, saw the headline “Special Tactical Squad Beats Citizens Indiscriminately” not as questioning police brutality but as “a statement of fact.” Chan later confirmed that the headline was a “statement.”

Chan also mentioned that after Jimmy Lai was arrested and released in August 2020, he did not instruct Apple Daily to change its editorial direction. The prosecution was concerned about whether Chan managed Apple Daily based on Lai’s views, to which she described as “basically yes,” explaining that “basically he (Lai) is the boss, and also he has a rather assertive style,” hence she would still act according to Lai’s views.

Ming Pao live-texted the trial proceedings.


【16:21】Apple Daily published on June 18, 2021, “Husband: She’s Calm, Strong, and Composed; Chan Pui-man Chose to Stay at the Scene of Disaster,” mentioning that as Apple Daily approached its 26th anniversary, over a hundred national security officers raided the Apple Daily building, arresting five senior executives, including Chan Pui-man. The prosecution pointed out that at that time, Jimmy Lai was in custody, and Chan had been arrested. Originally planned for the anniversary celebration, the interview was published early due to Chan’s arrest on June 17, explaining her arrest.

The article quoted Chan saying, “Working at Apple Daily today is not just about being a journalist; it’s more than just a job.” Chan confirmed in court she indeed felt that way. The report also mentioned Chan’s visits to Lai, “He (Lai) was very deliberate in wanting colleagues to be reassured, often saying ‘tell colleagues outside it’s OK, continue, no problem’.” She remembered Lai expressing in prison his belief that Hong Kong’s situation was worsening, which she communicated to Cheung Kim-hung and the then Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong. Chan also stated that after Lai’s arrest, she continued to follow Lai’s editorial policy, with Cheung not directing any change in reporting direction, only mentioning that after the national security law took effect, certain terms should no longer be used.

【16:10】On December 5, 2020, Apple Daily published a front-page report “Jimmy Lai: Fearless, Continue to Fight; Son Sends Apple Daily, Correctional Services Returns It,” quoting Lai encouraging Apple Daily colleagues and readers: “No fear, we have to fight on.” Chan added that the quote was relayed by someone who visited Lai, as she hadn’t visited him personally; when asked if Lai requested any changes to Apple Daily’s editorial policy during her visits, Chan said no, but “I remember he said, ‘tell the colleagues to hang in there’.”

【15:50】After Jimmy Lai was remanded in December 2020, Apple Daily published a statement on December 4 titled “Apple Daily’s Letter to Readers: We Will Not Resign to Fate,” which Chan confirmed she agreed to publish because she felt it necessary to make a statement after Lai’s remand, as the outside world was concerned whether Apple Daily would continue operations. She couldn’t recall whether she wrote the article herself or arranged for a staff member to do so.

【15:19】The prosecution presented communication records from the “English News” group on October 16, 2020, where Cheung Kim-hung described five exclusive reports released by Taiwan’s Apple Daily as “spectacular,” including “Exposure of the Mysterious Broker Who Met with Biden’s Son: Secret Meeting with High-Level Financial Figures, Wu Dunyi’s Daughter Appears on Behalf of Her Father” and “From Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping: The Bidens Criticized as ‘China’s Cheerleaders’.” It was mentioned that Hong Kong’s Apple Daily needed to translate these reports as soon as possible. Chan Pui-man stated that this series of reports took an opposing stance against Joe Biden, who was then a candidate for the President of the United States.

When asked about the angle Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported on Biden, Chan recalled Jimmy Lai criticizing the international team staff for following The New York Times and CNN too closely, being critical of Trump but not highlighting the scandals of Biden and his family “big enough.” After reviewing the reports and consulting with the international team, Chan learned that although American social media and smaller media outlets reported on Biden’s scandals, the reports were “not very conclusive.” She explained this to Cheung Kim-hung, “but the international edition colleagues would still feel the pressure” and adjust according to Lai’s requests, although she believed “basically, we were still following the principles of journalism.”

【15:10】The prosecution continued with one of the inciting articles charged, written by Chan Pui-man in her Apple Daily column on September 29, commenting on the incitement crime. When asked if the article’s stance supported or opposed the government, Chan expressed her disagreement with the legislation and certain police actions at that time.

The prosecution also read from the article: “The red line keeps moving, and the goalposts keep shifting; in the end, whoever is stronger and more malicious gets to distort the truth,” asking if the sentence was a statement or a question. Chan confirmed it was a “statement sentence.”

【14:45】On August 26, 2020, Jimmy Lai sent photos of two Apple Daily reports, “China’s Annual Import of 100 Million Tons of Food: Hard to Be Self-Sufficient” and “Cross-Strait Feature: CCP’s Authoritarian Drama on Food Waste, Experts: Policy Done in Six Months,” to the “English News” group, instructing “Lo Fung” to translate and publish them in the English edition. Chan confirmed “Lo Fung” was the then Editor-in-Chief of the English edition, Fung Wei-kwong; the next day, Lai tweeted the English versions of these articles, commenting, “China cannot afford to lose the free world as its trading partner.”

【14:33】Court resumed. The prosecution presented a tweet by Jimmy Lai dated August 20, 2020, stating, “Thank you, Mr. Trump. Without freedom, Hong Kong can never be successful again nor can it remain an international financial center. It is very sad.” Apple Daily reported the next day “Trump: Jimmy Lai is a brave man,” citing Lai’s tweet thanking Trump. Chan added that at the time, then-President Trump publicly praised Lai in a press conference, which many foreign media outlets reported, and both Apple Daily’s real-time news and newspaper covered the event.

【12:40】The prosecution continued to inquire about the period after Jimmy Lai’s arrest and release on August 13, 2020, asking if Chan continued to act according to Lai’s views after his arrest and release. Chan responded, “You could say that.”

The prosecution presented a message from the then Director of Digital News, Cheung Chi-wai, in the “English News” WhatsApp group dated August 13, discussing Apple Daily’s app push notification titled “【National Security Law】’No matter how difficult, I know I’m doing the right thing’ Supporters Show Up to Cheer, Jimmy Lai Tears Up,” reporting on Lai’s Twitter livestream that morning. Later that day, Cheung mentioned that Bloomberg and The Guardian reported on Lai’s livestream.

Apple Daily also reported on Lai’s livestream on the front page the next day, titled “After Release, Twitter Livestream by Jimmy Lai: Handcuffs Can’t Insult Me,” describing Lai’s operation of the “international line” as usual on Twitter the previous morning. The prosecution was interested in why the term “operating the international line” was used. Chan explained the article was based on the previous day’s online news draft, and the digital team had always used the term “international line,” so it was carried over, considering Lai’s Twitter was aimed at the international community. The prosecution further inquired about Lai’s purpose in targeting the international community, to which Chan added Lai aimed to “gain support or express his views to the international community,” including seeking foreign support for his appeals “to pressure the Chinese or Hong Kong government.”

【12:30】The prosecution presented an Apple Daily report from July 18, 2020, “US Sanctions List Includes Han Zheng, Carrie Lam PK Deng on the List,” citing Bloomberg’s disclosure of the sanctions list. Chan previously claimed Lai had instructed her to draft a sanctions list, but she found it difficult to execute in a news format, ultimately not listing the sanctions. Chan added today, upon the prosecution’s inquiry, that the Apple Daily report was written based on Lai’s suggestion, as Lai was “very concerned about who would be on the sanctions list,” hence the report focused on analyzing the sanctions list, citing Bloomberg’s news.

【12:25】On July 7, Apple Daily published “Bursting Doors, Searching Houses, Restricting Exit, Confiscating Property, Secret Wiretapping: Police Show Off in National Security Cases.” The prosecution asked why the page was designed this way, and Chan explained it aimed to reflect the government’s empowerment of police to monitor or access citizens’ data under the national security law. Judge Alex Lee questioned whether the staff responsible for designing the page graphics received instructions beforehand or could freely design according to their own wishes. Chan stated there would be explanations before the design.

【12:18】The prosecution revisited Apple Daily’s front-page news on the day the national security law took effect, July 1, 2020, “Evil Law Takes Effect, Two Systems Buried; Pan-Democrats Continue to Protest on 7.1.” Chan previously claimed the title was based on Lai’s stance. Chan added today that Lai had always believed “the implementation of the national security law would destroy ‘one country, two systems’ and harm the rule of law,” thus she thought the title was based on his stance, noting Lai would “instruct us on how to reflect his views in our reporting.”

Judge Alex Lee then inquired about the overall influence of Lai on Apple Daily’s editorial policy. Chan stated, “If he (Lai) highly values that piece of news, sometimes he would give clear instructions to maximize it,” sometimes through issuing press releases, or like in the Legislative Council clash on July 1, 2019, Lai had instructed Apple Daily to “amplify the voices of the protesters.”

【12:00】Court resumed.


【10:57】The court presented an article published in the same month, “Special Topic: Fujian Gang’s ‘Kill Without Mercy’ on the Streets, Red Terror in North Point,” with Chan Pui-man explaining that the article belonged to a “special topic” discussed in weekly meetings, usually handled by the digital edition staff. Another report titled “Next Magazine: Female Protesters Tortured in Police Station, Neck Strangled, Chest Touched, Insulted, Prevented from Sleeping” featured the Next Magazine logo. Chan stated that Next Magazine had not published physical copies since 2018, but continued to operate digitally in 2019. At that time, Jimmy Lai requested the newspaper to become more “magazine-like,” which Cheung Kim-hung agreed to, selecting some Next Magazine articles for publication in the physical newspaper each week.

【10:45】The prosecution continued with an Apple Daily report from September 1, 2019, “Massive Arrest at MTR Would Lead to Yuen Long Terror Attack 2.0; Special Tactical Squad Beats Citizens Indiscriminately,” reporting on the August 31 Prince Edward station incident. Chan Pui-man testified that the report’s angle was “questioning whether the police used excessive force that night,” and Jimmy Lai’s political views “could be said to have” influenced the angle of the report, as Lai considered “police brutality to violate justice,” and many videos captured citizens being “viciously beaten” in train compartments that night, leading Apple Daily to report the incident on the front page.

Judge Alex Lee was concerned that the article’s title “Special Tactical Squad Beats Citizens Indiscriminately” was not questioning police brutality but rather “a statement of fact.” Chan Pui-man confirmed that the title was indeed a “statement.”

【10:05】Court resumed.

Chan Pui-man, the then Associate Publisher of Apple Daily, continued her 11th day as an accomplice witness, with Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kin, leading the questioning. The prosecution first presented Apple Daily’s front-page report from August 13, 2020, about Jimmy Lai being detained by the police and then released, titled “Jimmy Lai’s Reflections in Detention ‘I Would Choose This Path Even If It Means Going to Jail’.” The report described Jimmy Lai’s return to the Apple Daily building, receiving a “heroic welcome” from staff, and in an exclusive interview, Lai reflected on his time in detention, stating, “Whatever the future holds, even if it means sleeping in jail, I would still choose this path,” and affirmed that Apple Daily would “continue as usual” and “definitely persevere.”

Chan Pui-man confirmed that Lai had indeed made the statements quoted in the article, but she was not the one who interviewed Lai; other staff members were responsible. The prosecution inquired whether, after Lai’s arrest and release, he had instructed Apple Daily to change its editorial direction, to which Chan testified there were none. Regarding whether Chan managed Apple Daily according to Lai’s views, she indicated “basically yes,” explaining that “basically he (Lai) is the boss, and he has a rather assertive style,” always insisting his approach was correct, hence she continued to act according to Lai’s views.

The prosecution further asked if Chan agreed with Lai’s political views, to which she expressed agreement with some of Lai’s “very macro, or very basic values,” such as democracy and freedom, but when it came to some specific actions or approaches, “I don’t think I would agree every time.”

Ming Pao Reporters Celine Tam, Tong Bik-yu

Ming Pao

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