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Day 37: March 4, 2024

Ming Pao: Jimmy Lai Case | Former Apple Daily Chief Editorial Writer Yeung Ching-kee: Lai’s Lunchbox Meetings Aimed to Issue Instructions, Commentary Articles Must Align with Lai’s Stance

Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital, and three related companies of Apple Daily are charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces.” The case entered its 37th day of trial today. Yeung Ching-kee, the then chief editor of Apple Daily, began to testify.

Ming Pao Live Text Coverage of the Trial

【15:59】Yeung Ching-kee confirmed that Simon Lee, Sang Pu, and Fung Wai-kong all attended the dinner on June 23, 2020, but Yeung had forgotten the conversation content between himself and the three. The prosecution focused on whether the sanctions targets were mentioned at the dinner. Yeung stated that no specific list was discussed, but there were obvious comments in society pointing to some Beijing officials responsible for Hong Kong affairs and SAR government officials. The prosecution further asked if US government figures, such as the President and Vice President, were mentioned at the dinner. Judge Alex Lee interrupted, suggesting the prosecution seemed to be probing Yeung, so no further questions were asked.

The English version of Apple Daily was launched on May 25, 2020. Yeung stated that initially, the English version was not Fung’s responsibility, but rather it was assisted by the international edition staff in translation. By June of the same year, Fung revealed to Yeung that he would return to Apple Daily and work on the English version.

【15:24】Yeung Ching-kee recalled that Simon Lee managed Lai’s Twitter account in the early stages, but after Lai publicly mentioned Lee’s role in an interview, Lee discussed with Yeung that he felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to continue. Ultimately, due to concerns about violating the National Security Law, Lee resigned around August 2020.

Regarding the dinner on May 20, 2020, Yeung recalled that the discussion was about the English version, and Lai hoped that foreign governments would impose sanctions to force the Hong Kong government to withdraw the National Security Law, but no specific implementation methods and reporting angles were raised. Yeung admitted that he had a supportive attitude towards the approach at that time. Later, Yeung received a message from Lai instructing him to find someone to write about the “power struggle” within the Chinese Communist Party, asking for “insider information” rather than just commentary.

【14:43】The prosecution mentioned the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which affected Hong Kong and the world, and asked about the reporting angle of Apple Daily at that time. Yeung Ching-kee stated that Apple Daily’s reports mainly criticized China for concealing the epidemic, causing “global chaos.”

As for the launch of the English version of Apple Daily in May 2020, Yeung said he was aware of it beforehand because Jimmy Lai had invited him and other current affairs commentators to a dinner at Lai’s residence, stating that the English version could expand Apple Daily’s influence in the United States and inform Americans about the oppression of human rights in Hong Kong and the introduction of the National Security Law, thereby restraining the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

The prosecution pointed out that Yeung attended dinners at Lai’s residence on May 6, May 20, and June 23, 2020, three times in total. Yeung confirmed this. Regarding the dinner on May 6, 2020, Yeung said Lai talked about opening a Twitter account, hoping to expand his and Apple Daily’s influence through social media, and asked attendees to provide news and commentary for him to publish, such as news about protests and the “June 4th” incident. Yeung recalled that Simon Lee, Lam Pun-lee, Sang Pu, and Fung Wai-kong, who used the pen name “Lo Fung,” were all present at the dinner, but he did not specifically note what Fung said during the dinner, “Usually, when Mr. Lai expresses his opinions, we all support them.”

Yeung also mentioned that after Jimmy Lai was arrested, he was instructed to find Sang Pu to write articles, but Sang Pu tended to support “Hong Kong independence.” He had raised to Chan Pui-man that Sang Pu’s articles were not suitable for publication, “Using them or not would both cause trouble.” He believed his opinion was later accepted because Chan did not mention Sang Pu again.

【14:33】The prosecution showed a conversation record between Yeung Ching-kee and Chan Pui-man from January 2019.

Chan Pui-man: “Can you or Jason organize a list of authors who have joined us recently and tell me? Because we have a lunchbox meeting the day after tomorrow. Thank you.”

Yeung Ching-kee: “I’ll email you later tonight.”

Yeung confirmed in court that “Jason” is one of the forum section staff, and the message was a follow-up to the issues discussed in the lunchbox meeting, namely finding authors from Initium Media, Stand News, and Hong Kong Citizen News to contribute. Yeung mentioned that Lai requested the forum section to “seek innovation and change,” often asking for author changes.

Yeung continued to say that, as far as he remembers, he did not attend the “lunchbox meeting” mentioned in the conversation with Chan, stating that only senior executives attended. He also said that he had face-to-face interactions with Chan Pui-man, Cheung Kim-hung, Ryan Law Wai-kwong, Lam Man-chung, the then Executive Editor of Apple Daily, and Fung Wai-kong, the English Edition Editor, as Fung’s office was next to his. However, he rarely interacted with Cheung Chi-wai, the Director of the Animated News Platform, as Cheung’s responsibilities did not directly relate to him.

【14:31】Court session begins.
【12:55】Court adjourns.

【12:37】Yeung Ching-kee mentioned that from the messages, it can be seen that in July 2019, Apple Daily reported Lai’s meeting with then-US Vice President Mike Pence. Yeung said Lai did not tell him the details of his trip after returning to Hong Kong because the event was news and not a forum article. However, he remembered discussing with Lai in October 2018 about Pence’s speech on China policy at the Hudson Institute. After watching the speech, Lai felt that the US was “strongly against” China and would take advantage of China’s weaknesses to change its policy towards China, along with Japan and Western countries. “From that time on, Mr. Lai’s political stance became more radical,” thinking that the US would not only launch a trade war but a “comprehensive war.”

The prosecution asked what it meant for Lai to become more radical. Yeung said, “I think Mr. Lai was once a successful businessman” with a good grasp of the market and customer needs. Lai believed that both news reporting and commentary should “change” in response to changes in the international situation. Yeung observed that the angle of news reporting became more radical after the start of the anti-extradition law movement, “My impression is that it encouraged resistance, hoping the government would withdraw the bill,” and when the National Security Law was introduced, “it was no longer about pursuing balanced reporting.”

Yeung believed his discussion with Lai was related to Lai’s meeting with Pence because from the messages, it can be seen that Lai “grasped this change,” but the developments after the meeting “I saw from the newspapers.” As for Lai’s meeting with then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in October of the same year, Yeung also learned about it from news reports.

【12:11】Court session begins.

The prosecution asked Yeung Ching-kee about the purpose of Jimmy Lai’s lunchbox meetings. Yeung believed that Lai collected questions from various departments and then issued instructions that they had to execute. For example, inviting overseas authors was one such instruction. Yeung said that when Publisher Cheung Kim-hung felt he was not doing well, he personally looked for authors.

Besides lunchbox meetings, Yeung said Lai’s instructions also included providing specific articles. For example, when the government proposed amendments to the extradition law, there were articles that clearly supported resistance. After the introduction of the National Security Law, the authors specified by Lai were all dissatisfied with the law.

Yeung continued, although Lai did not directly instruct the forum section, Lai’s articles clearly articulated his views, even more clearly than verbal instructions. Yeung stated, “The forum section definitely wouldn’t oppose him, wouldn’t oppose his views,” and Yeung had to read and follow Lai’s articles.

【11:25】Court adjourns.

【11:13】Yeung Ching-kee continued, stating that the “overseas authors” referred to those who write about Hong Kong’s situation in Chinese but are not physically in Hong Kong. They are less concerned about the impact of the Hong Kong National Security Law, have fewer reservations, and can pose sharper questions and criticisms to the government. He mentioned that he only attended the lunchbox meetings when invited, as meetings were held for different departments, “I wasn’t part of every meeting,” but he couldn’t recall how many times he was invited, “I was just the head of the department, not a senior executive.”

【10:59】The prosecution asked about the lunchbox meetings, and Yeung Ching-kee said the one in July 2020 left the deepest impression on him. The prosecution presented an email Yeung received that month, titled “July 17 (Friday) VIP Lunchbox Meeting (Paper),” which listed attendees from various departments including forums, international, finance, politics, etc. Yeung remembered that he prepared questions as requested by associate publisher Chan Pui-man to raise at the meeting, one of which was about the shortage of authors after the implementation of the National Security Law. Jimmy Lai then replied that they could try to contact overseas authors.

The court displayed a message sent by Chan Pui-man on “Slack,” listing seven “discussion” points for the meeting, including “Special design for the 721 headline” and “Consideration of words, the red line of the National Security Law is vague, act according to one’s conscience and journalistic principles.” Yeung mentioned during his testimony that he thought Chan’s use of the word “discussion” was inappropriate because “it wasn’t the focus of the discussion, it was basically Mr. Lai’s response.”

【10:40】The prosecution showed a conversation record between Yeung and then Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong in July 2019, where Law sent an article link by writer Yan Chun’gou titled “【Online Forum】Young People Show What We Have Lost” to Yeung, who replied, “He wrote two pieces, another one is scheduled for Thursday’s newspaper.”

Yeung testified that the number of forum articles published online was fewer than in the printed newspaper, and other editors were also responsible for deciding what articles to upload, “For the printed version, I made the decisions, not for the online version.” He rarely interfered with the online version staff’s decisions, “unless I felt something needed to be included.” As for the English version of the forum, Yeung said he was not in charge of it, and those articles might have been translated from the original Chinese.

The prosecution continued to show messages between Ryan Law Wai-kwong and Yeung, where Law sent a link to an article by mainland writer Ja Jia published in Taiwan’s Apple Daily to Yeung, asking “Will you use it?” Yeung testified that Taiwan’s Apple Daily sometimes sent articles to them. The defense raised concerns about the questioning involving Taiwan’s Apple Daily, and the judge suggested that the prosecution should not delve too deeply into it. Yeung confirmed that he also decided whether to upload articles from Taiwan’s Apple Daily.

【10:11】Under questioning by Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, Yeung confirmed that he was born in mainland China and received university education there, came to Hong Kong in 1993, and joined Apple Daily in 1998 as a senior reporter for the China section. He was later promoted to Assistant Editorial Writer, Deputy Editorial Writer, and finally Chief Editorial Writer, serving until his arrest in June 2021. He was once released on bail by the police and pleaded guilty in this case.

Yeung Ching-kee explained that his main responsibilities at Apple Daily were to write editorials and manage the forum section, which was published in the A section of the newspaper. Special themes were set for Saturdays, while other days had no specific themes.

【10:06】Court session begins. The third “accomplice witness,” Yeung Ching-kee, the then Chief Editorial Writer of Apple Daily, testified for the first time today. He appeared in court escorted by three correctional officers, wearing a black coat and a blue shirt, with graying hair and glasses. He took an oath to testify at the witness stand. Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping mentioned at one point that she could not see Yeung clearly, so the staff raised his chair.

As soon as the court session began, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang stated that they originally planned to summon another witness, Chan Tsz-wa, after Yeung Ching-kee’s testimony, but now they intend to summon “accomplice witness” Andy Li first.

Ming Pao Reporters Celine Tam, Tong Bik-yu

Ming Pao

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