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Day 33: February 27, 2024

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Case | Defense Asks Chan Pui-man if She Had Editorial Autonomy; Chan: “Yes, When Mr. Lai Didn’t Speak Up” (16:43)

The founder of Next Digital, Jimmy Lai, and three companies related to Apple Daily are being tried for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign forces. Chan Pui-man, the former associate publisher of Apple Daily, continued her testimony for the 12th day. In the afternoon, she finished answering questions from the prosecution and began being cross-examined by the defense.

Ming Pao live text coverage of the trial

[16:24] Court adjourned.

[16:20] The defense pointed out that Jimmy Lai would not directly instruct Chan Pui-man to do anything, but would “make suggestions,” always in a polite tone, such as “we can do it this way” or “you can discuss this.” Chan agreed that Lai’s wording was polite and that he would occasionally make suggestions in this manner, but “different situations are different, sometimes I would feel it’s an instruction.”

[15:40] The defense mentioned the period when the National Security Law (NSL) was being considered and enacted, asking Chan if she opposed the NSL. She expressed concern that the NSL would affect media work, stating, “I think if it were to be implemented, there should be more consultation, or gathering more opinions from the public,” and agreed that she was worried the NSL would strip away press freedom and other individual freedoms. Apple Daily’s articles were thus inclined to criticize the NSL, but Chan emphasized, “However, some of them were reflecting Mr. Lai’s stance.”

Chan continued to confirm that Jimmy Lai was also worried about the NSL stripping away press freedom and “made every effort to prevent the passage of the NSL,” hence suggesting international sanctions to stop the NSL from taking effect, and before the NSL was in effect, there were no laws prohibiting the call for international sanctions.

[15:25] The defense continued to question Chan’s values, asking if she held the same values as Lai, such as democracy, human rights, press freedom, and government transparency. Chan agreed across the board, “I believe Hong Kong is suitable for developing this as a political system, that is, a democratic system,” and also confirmed that Apple Daily embraced these values.

Regarding the editorial direction of Apple Daily, the defense pointed out that Apple Daily’s attitude towards the government was more critical, but “not criticizing for the sake of criticizing, but hoping to draw attention and make the government change policies,” to which Chan agreed, “You can say that.” Apple Daily also frequently reported on police brutality, and Chan confirmed she personally opposed police brutality, believing “excessive force should not be used,” and also agreed that Apple Daily’s reporting on police brutality was to persuade those in power to restrain themselves and avoid abuse of force.

During the anti-extradition bill movement, Chan agreed that she “was also against” the amendment of the Extradition Law at that time, and many of Apple Daily’s reports on the amendment were aimed at persuading the authorities to withdraw the amendment. As for whether Apple Daily’s frequent reporting on protests aimed to persuade the authorities that “the amendment was not a good idea,” Chan thought for a moment and answered, “It has that effect.”

[15:14] Court in session.

Robert Pang Yiu-hung, the senior barrister representing Jimmy Lai, began questioning Chan Pui-man. Lai was calm and stared at Chan as she testified. The defense first mentioned that before the main questioning ended, Chan said that Lai had commented that Apple Daily’s news on foreign sanctions one day was “not big enough.” The defense asked if the news had appeared earlier, would Chan have “made it bigger”? Chan answered, “Not necessarily,” because if there were major news, she could change the edition at any time, even putting it on the front page, so in the case mentioned, she did not think the news was too important; the defense then asked if Chan Pui-man had editorial autonomy, to which Chan humorously replied, “If Mr. Lai doesn’t speak up, yes.”

The defense continued to point out that Jimmy Lai did not attend regular editorial meetings, such that the records of the “Weeding Meeting” would not be sent to Lai. Chan Pui-man agreed across the board; Chan also agreed that she had over 20 years of experience, was a senior journalist, had traveled to Sweden to interview Liu Xiaobo when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and her coverage of the Myanmar elections had won a human rights journalism award. As for whether she maintained professional standards throughout her journalistic career, Chan said, “I hope so.”

[14:45] The prosecution revisited the point that Jimmy Lai’s assistant, Mark Simon, would send information to Chan Pui-man, such as a tweet from then-U.S. Vice President Pence mentioning his meeting with Lai. Chan stated that Simon’s purpose was to have Apple Daily report on the event. A photo was presented in court, and Chan, as requested by the prosecution, identified the person in the photo as Mark Simon. The prosecution completed 12 days of main questioning, and the defense will begin questioning shortly.

[14:38] The prosecution asked if, apart from communication apps, Lai commented on the newspaper’s handling methods on other occasions. Chan Pui-man recalled that in the second half of 2019, Lai expressed the day after a news piece about putting pressure on the Chinese mainland or Hong Kong government was published, that he believed the news should not have been placed on page A2 but should have been a full front-page feature.

[14:33] Court in session.

[13:08] Court adjourned.

[12:50] Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios expressed concern that the prosecution originally stated the main questioning could be completed in 15 minutes, but Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan explained that he was “under the weather” today, and the questioning took longer than expected, hoping for the court’s understanding.

[12:48] The prosecution continued to present an email extracted from the computer of Fung Wai-kong, then Editor-in-Chief of Apple Daily’s English edition, titled “Freelance Work Payment Claim Approval Form,” which listed payment for freelance writers including Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch, and former chairman of the Journalists Association, Chris Yeung Kin-hing. Chan Pui-man confirmed that the email listed the freelance writers’ fees, but she did not need to approve the fees for the English edition.

[12:39] Apple Daily published 1 million copies of the newspaper on the day it ceased publication, June 24th. The prosecution inquired if this was Chan Pui-man’s decision. She said the distribution department had mentioned that many people would buy the newspaper, “because it was the last issue,” and senior company employees also suggested printing 1 million copies. Chan indicated it was her decision to approve, but her position was “somewhat awkward” at the time because she had already resigned and was packing up her belongings at the company. When someone informed her of the suggestion, she said, “Okay, okay, that sounds good, let’s go with 1 million copies.”

[12:21] The prosecution presented two reports published on June 19th and June 20th, 2021, respectively: “Detained for 40 hours, released on bail along with Royston Chow Tat-kuen, and Cheung Chi-wai, Chan Pui-man: Proud of Apple Daily colleagues” and “Journalists first implicated under National Security Law, Cheung Kim-hung and Ryan Law Wai-kwong remain in custody.” The former mentioned Chan Pui-man’s sentiment, “I’m very touched,” that Apple Daily could still be published smoothly, encouraging colleagues to “do as much as possible.” In the latter, Chan said, “The newspaper will be on the streets as usual today,” and revealed that she had not yet resigned.

The prosecution asked if Chan Pui-man had resigned on June 20th. She responded that she had verbally expressed to the then chairman of Next Digital, Ip Yut-kin, her intention to resign from her positions as Associate Publisher and director of Apple Daily. At that time, Law and Cheung were in custody, so in terms of seniority, the remaining senior executive was Cheung Chi-wai, director of the digital news platform.

Chan confirmed that she continued to work at Apple Daily until June 24th after her arrest. In other words, her resignation was not effective on the 24th? Chan replied, “You could say that, but actually, I had submitted the form, but the company was in chaos at that time,” “Because they didn’t even know who could approve my form, how to handle it.”

Under questioning from Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang, Chan clarified that she was released on bail by the police close to midnight on June 18th, attended court the next day to observe the hearings of Ryan Law Wai-kwong and Cheung Kim-hung, rested for a day, and returned to the company on June 20th.

[12:05] The prosecution mentioned yesterday that after Chan Pui-man was arrested on June 17th, 2021, Apple Daily published her interview “Husband: She’s calm, strong, and composed, Chan Pui-man chooses to stay at the scene of disaster” the next day. The article quoted Chan saying at an Apple Daily staff meeting, “I will stay until the last moment.” Chan testified in court that she did not remember if she said it at the staff meeting or during the interview, “Anyway, I have said this sentence.”

The prosecution further inquired if Chan had instructed any changes in the reporting direction of Apple Daily at the staff meeting. Chan replied, “No,” adding that from Jimmy Lai’s arrest to his detention, and up to the staff meeting, “We were not directly accused of having problems with our news reporting,” so they never discussed changing the angle of reporting, only changing some wording in the reports.

[11:55] The prosecution presented a message exchange between Chan Pui-man and Yeung Ching-Kee, then chief editor, on March 11, 2021:

Chan: “I think the article by former i-Cable chief editor Lam Miu-yan is okay and quite timely for the news.”

Yeung: “Looking for her.”

Chan Pui-man confirmed in court that she had recommended Lam to write for Apple Daily. On April 30 of the same year, Chan and Yeung had another conversation:

Chan: “Does Sang Pu have a regular column? The boss suggests asking him to write. Is there a spot in the forum?”

Yeung: “His articles are weird, and he openly advocates for Hong Kong independence, so we’ve never dared to let him start a column; otherwise, whether we publish it or not, it would be troublesome.”

Chan Pui-man added in court that after Jimmy Lai was detained, Cheung Kim-hung mentioned that Lai wanted to invite commentator Sang Pu to write for Apple Daily.

[11:40] The prosecution continued to show messages from a WhatsApp group called “Response Team” formed by Apple Daily’s senior executives. Chan Pui-man confirmed that the group was established by Cheung Kim-hung on April 17, 2021, to discuss whether Apple Daily’s reports or wording needed to be changed in response to the National Security Law or police statements. Employees frequently raised questions about whether certain words could be used, such as cases related to the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.” They discussed whether these words could be used in reports or advertisements.

The message record showed that on April 17, Chan Pui-man asked whether the term “castration of the election” should be changed to “improvement” or “modification” of the electoral system. Ryan Law Wai-kwong, then editor-in-chief, replied, “I discussed with my colleagues, and we think we can continue to use ‘castration of the election’ because it’s stating a fact.” He also suggested that they could continue to use “Wuhan pneumonia.”

Chan Pui-man added in court that the aforementioned terms were “considered by colleagues whether they might be problematic in the current social atmosphere or under the new legal environment.” Coupled with the earlier statements by Chris Tang, they worried, “If we don’t use words more cautiously, will we violate what Chris Tang said?” Therefore, they hoped to discuss in the group and unify the approach for online and print news.

[11:30] Apple Daily published a front-page article on April 16, 2021, titled “Tang Ping-keung’s Intimidation of the Media: Violating National Security Comes at a Price, Apple Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Suspects the Law is Paving Ways for Severe Suppression.” The article reported that Chris Tang, then Commissioner of Police, criticized an Apple Daily article as “misleading, sensational, and not entirely true” without naming names. The prosecution asked if Apple Daily adjusted its editorial direction after Chris Tang’s remarks. Chan Pui-man said, “I don’t remember doing anything.”

[11:10] The prosecution presented Apple Daily’s front-page report on December 13, 2020, after Jimmy Lai was charged under the National Security Law, titled “Charged with Colluding with Foreign Forces to Endanger National Security, No Bail Allowed, Jimmy Lai’s Opening of Twitter Account and Following Pompeo and Tsai Ing-wen Before National Security Law Become ‘Evidence’.” The prosecution asked why the word “evidence” was enclosed in quotation marks. Chan Pui-man explained, “Because he hadn’t been convicted at that time, it was just an accusation.”

The report also listed the “Contents of the Prosecution’s Accusations,” including articles written by Jimmy Lai and his interview program “Live Chat with Jimmy Lai.” The prosecution asked if Apple Daily had removed any articles or segments, and Chan said that Cheung Kim-hung, then president, had mentioned removing some articles, but she was not sure when exactly they were removed.

[11:06] Court in session. Chan Pui-man, former Associate Publisher of Apple Daily, was undergoing her 12th day of main questioning by the prosecution. Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan stated at the start of the session that although he mentioned yesterday that the main questioning had 15 minutes remaining, it would take more time today.

Ming Pao Reporters Celine Tam, Tong Bik-yu

Ming Pao

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