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Day 38: March 5, 2024

Ming Pao: “【Continuous Updates】Jimmy Lai Case | Yeung Ching-kee: Author selection is mandated by senior management ‘had to be used’; once requested authors to modify articles to align with stance (16:47)”

Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and three related companies of Apple Daily are involved in a case of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces. The trial entered its 37th day yesterday. The prosecution called the third accomplice witness, Yeung Ching-kee (pen name Li Ping), the chief editorial writer of Apple Daily at the time, to testify.

Ming Pao’s live text coverage of the trial

【16:26】Court adjourned.

【16:15】The prosecution mentioned that on May 25, 2021, Ryan Law Wai-kwong sent a message to Yeung Ching-kee saying, “Mr. Lai has sent a letter, and he wants you to see it directly.” Yeung testified that at the time, Lai reminded the staff to be careful in the letter, but he had forgotten the specific wording, only remembering that the letter was handwritten by Lai. The prosecution then handed a document to Yeung to read, but Yeung said that the document was not the letter he had read at the time.

【16:00】The prosecution mentioned that in April 2021, there was a document titled “Apple Daily Under Pressure: Fine-tuning Direction” on Yeung Ching-kee’s computer. Yeung explained that the document was about an investigation into the wording used by the newspaper, “Since the wording in the forum will not be modified, it is necessary to communicate with the authors in a timely manner.”

The prosecution continued to show that on April 17 and 18, Yeung received instructions from senior management saying, “It’s better not to use words like ‘black police'” and “From today, do not use ‘Wuhan pneumonia’; the editorial board will also not use it, and forum authors can decide for themselves.” On April 21, Cheung Kim-hung sent a message to Yeung, expressing concern about whether the wording of an editorial would violate the National Security Law. Yeung said that the wording of the editorial was indeed distorted, such as the slogan “End one-party dictatorship” had been used in Hong Kong for over twenty years, but the editorial interpreted it as overthrowing the ruling party of the state, which was indefensible. Therefore, Cheung was worried that the editorial might violate the National Security Law and wanted Yeung’s help to clarify whether the editorial was published before the National Security Law came into effect.

【15:40】Yeung Ching Kee mentioned an article by Takahashi, saying that when discussing foreign sanctions, the author would describe them as “showy” and “useless.” Therefore, Yeung told Takahashi that “Apple Daily’s readers are more in favor of foreign sanctions.” Eventually, Takahashi rewrote the sanctions as orders from the former U.S. president, as a support for Hong Kong people from the U.S. Yeung believes that this viewpoint is consistent with the taste of the senior management and readers.

【15:25】The prosecution displayed a message between Cheung Kim-hung and Yeung Ching-kee from December 13, 2020.

Cheung Kim-hung: “Did Mr. Takahashi say he wants to stop his column in the forum?”

Yeung Ching-Kee: “Did he say he wants to stop? He hasn’t told me.”

Yeung stated that this example reflects the issue of “senior management specifying authors” and mentioned that he took the handling of authors very seriously. However, whenever there was a problem with an author, they would complain directly to the senior management, making Yeung’s role passive. Yeung added that this particular incident was a misunderstanding. He had suggested to the author, Takahashi, that readers did not want to read about history and hoped he would change the topic, but Takahashi went straight to Cheung Kim-hung to “complain.”

Yeung also mentioned that at that time, Lai instructed him to find more overseas authors during a “lunchbox meeting.” Cheung might have felt that Yeung’s progress was not as expected and thus recommended Takahashi. Cheung placed great importance on the US “returning to Asia” policy and thought that more could be written about Sino-Japanese relations, instructing Yeung to increase Takahashi’s remuneration from HKD 1200 to 1600. Yeung mentioned that Takahashi was a Japanese author whose Chinese expression often had problems. For example, when he wanted to express “former President Trump,” he would translate it as “late” President, making it “very difficult” for local reporters to edit his articles. Yeung directly stated in court, “Some authors don’t have good Chinese, but if they are specified by senior management, I have no choice but to use them.”

【15:17】The prosecution asked about Cheung Kim-hung’s role in Apple Daily after Lai was remanded in December 2020. Yeung Ching-kee described Cheung as the highest responsible person, “not just in terms of management, but also overseeing Apple Daily, the online version, and the English version.”

【14:50】The prosecution displayed a message from Lai to Yeung on September 14, 2020, saying, “I saw today’s column by Ding Shan mentioning a commentator Ma Tieying, saying his comments on China and Japan are insightful,” and hoped to invite him to write for Apple Daily. Yeung said in court that he was not clear about the meaning of “insightful,” but guessed it usually refers to sharper comments or the ability to reveal insider information. Since Lai valued insights into China at that time, he might have considered Ma a suitable candidate. Yeung continued, saying that since Lai’s instructions had to be executed, he told Lai he would contact Ma.

The prosecution mentioned another columnist, Cai Xia. Yeung said that at that time, Lai asked him to find some overseas authors and change the list of authors from time to time. Later, Lee recommended Cai Xia and suggested Lai meet her in person to invite her to write for Apple Daily, which could increase the chances of success. Yeung added that Cai Xia was originally a professor in mainland China and criticized China’s human rights situation and paid attention to Hong Kong’s situation after moving abroad.

Cai Xia is a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, who was expelled from the party and lost her retirement benefits in 2020 for making “serious political issues and damaging the country’s reputation” statements.

【14:32】Court resumed. Yeung Ching-kee testified that Lai’s column articles had different themes at different times. For example, as mentioned earlier, after the “National Security Law” came into effect in July 2020, and during the anti-extradition bill protests in 2019, “Lai’s articles often directly called on people to take to the streets.” Since Lai’s articles were always published on Sundays, and large-scale protests often occurred on Sundays, Yeung would also write or select articles with the same theme, mainly encouraging citizens to take to the streets for protests.

【13:06】Lunch break.

【12:45】The prosecution continued, pointing out that Cheung Kim-hung mentioned “maintaining the original policy” in the same message. Yeung responded in court that Apple Daily did not have written instructions for the so-called “original policy.” However, Yeung noticed that Jimmy Lai mentioned the National Security Law multiple times in his personal column, saying, “From an editorial perspective, I think some titles are really good, so they left a deep impression,” such as “Time is a Weapon” and “The Era is Coming.”

Yeung continued, “Everyone in the newspaper knew that no one dared to change Lai’s articles,” so the articles could truly reflect Lai’s views and stance. Regarding the content of “sanctions,” Lai believed that the sanctions actions by the US and Western countries against Chinese officials would not ease, as the US policy towards China would not reverse in the short term, and the US sanctions have a profound impact on China’s economy. Yeung then said, “The above-mentioned views of Jimmy Lai are the guidelines for my writing and selection of articles. The original policy is just like that.”

【12:30】 The prosecution mentioned that Yeung previously stated that after the National Security Law came into effect, the number of writers and columnists in Apple Daily’s commentary section decreased. They displayed an article titled “Under the National Security Law, Putting Down the Pen is the Only Choice” by Gu Deming. Yeung said that Gu Deming was the only writer who explicitly stated he would stop writing, but the number of writers and columnists in the commentary section did indeed decrease because they were “worried about how the red line of the National Security Law is drawn.”

The prosecution displayed a discussion message between Yeung and Ryan Law Wai-kwong from July 6, 2020, regarding the issue of writers putting down their pens:

Law: “Really not writing? So much pressure? I’ll ask a colleague to write a news piece.”

Yeung: “Better not to release the news, so as not to scare other writers.”

Law: “If they don’t write, everyone can see. There will be some people who can write, but they are not famous. Gu Deming is somewhat famous. He hasn’t stopped at Ming Pao.”

Yeung said in court that some writers believed that writing articles for Apple Daily was “particularly risky.” Since local writers were more worried about the risks, but overseas writers had relatively fewer concerns, Jimmy Lai later instructed in the “lunchbox meeting” to “find more overseas writers.”

Additionally, on August 3, Cheung Kim-hung sent a message to Yeung stating, “The government has issued arrest warrants for several overseas individuals, saying they violated the National Security Law. If they submit articles, we can’t conveniently pay them.” Yeung explained that Cheung was worried that paying the wanted individuals would be seen as supporting them, so Cheung instructed Yeung to inform them that they would not be paid. Afterward, Yeung did not receive any submissions from wanted individuals.

【12:10】Court resumed. The prosecution mentioned Fung Wai-kong (pen name Lo Fung), the then-executive editor of Apple Daily’s English edition. Yeung Ching-kee described Fung as “a more professional person,” saying, “He wouldn’t interfere with my work, and I wouldn’t interfere with his English edition.” Yeung mentioned their daily cooperation method, saying he would “supply” articles from the commentary section to Fung, and Fung was responsible for selecting and translating the articles. Yeung also said that some writers requested “only to publish in Chinese, not wanting the English edition to publish,” and Yeung conveyed the writers’ wishes to Fung.

Yeung continued that the first two of the three dinner parties hosted by Lai discussed Twitter and the English edition of Apple Daily. Lai said that both were used to expand his and Apple Daily’s influence while attracting American and international attention to Hong Kong’s human rights situation. Yeung also said that the content of the English edition of Apple Daily later showed that it “focused more on Hong Kong’s human rights situation.”

【11:30】Early break.

【10:50】The prosecution displayed a message from June 4, 2020, in which Jimmy Lai instructed Yeung Ching-kee to “see if there are some mainland news for me to post on Twitter for this year’s June 4th.” Yeung explained that Lai instructed him that morning to collect news related to the June 4th incident, and Yeung subsequently found two news items: “The Defiant General Who Stayed Silent” and “Families of Tiananmen Victims Pay Tribute.”

The prosecution continued to display several messages between Yeung and then editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong. When the names “Lam Ho-yi” and “Fuzi” appeared in the messages, the prosecution asked about their identities. Yeung emphasized, “I think the identities of the two writers are irrelevant to the case. Their identities and this prosecution are unrelated, so there’s no need to disclose their identities.” He added that both were more outstanding “experts on China issues” with more neutral comments.

The messages also showed that Law asked Yeung to find a writer to comment positively on the 2020 meeting between participants of the June 4th incident and the then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, analyzing the meeting. Yeung later found Pan Xiaotao to write the commentary.

【10:28】Yeung continued, saying that when Jimmy Lai was preparing to write an article related to the “National Security Law,” he instructed Yeung to collect information on the power struggle within the Chinese Communist Party and asked Yeung about “the movement that ultimately triggered democratization in South Korea.” Yeung then collected information on the “Gwangju Uprising” for Lai.

The prosecution continued, pointing out that on June 12, 2020, Yeung informed Lai that he had found Gao Yu from Beijing and Chang Ping, former chief editorial writer of Southern Metropolis Daily, to write immediate commentary for the English edition. Yeung explained that Lai instructed him to find people to write about the internal situation in China, so he recommended Gao Yu and Chang Ping, both senior media professionals with more neutral commentary. However, Lai was not very satisfied with the candidates, saying he wanted not just reflections but also insider information. Yeung understood that Lai’s requirement for the candidates was to be able to write about China’s inside stories, but Gao Yu and Chang Ping were commentators, not insiders. In the end, Lai did not adopt Yeung’s suggestion.

【10:05】Court resumed. Yeung Ching-kee (pen name Li Ping), the then-chief editorial writer of Apple Daily, continued his testimony. The prosecution displayed a message from May 25, 2020, in which Jimmy Lai informed Yeung that he would pay 10,000 HKD as “Twitter remuneration.” Yeung explained that they had discussed remuneration for contributions, and from the message, it appeared that Lai intended to pay him 10,000 HKD per month for contributions, but Lai “never gave me a penny.” Yeung added that as a full-time employee, he had to execute Lai’s instructions regardless of whether Lai paid any additional remuneration.

The message showed that on the same day, Yeung replied to Jimmy Lai:
“I will do my best to share the responsibility of public opinion.”

The prosecution asked if Lai’s Twitter was related to public opinion. Yeung stated, “Lai had said before that opening a Twitter account was to strengthen his own and Apple Daily’s influence,” believing that this move could affect public opinion, so his contributions to Lai’s Twitter were part of “sharing the responsibility of public opinion.”

Ming Pao

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