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Day 39: March 6, 2024

Ming Pao: [Continuous Update] Jimmy Lai Case | Yeung Ching-kee stated that he would directly publish articles criticizing the CCP because “they were passed on by the boss” (16:58)

Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital, and three related companies of Apple Daily are involved in a case of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces. The prosecution summoned the third accomplice witness, Yeung Ching-kee (pen name Li Ping), who was the chief editorial writer of Apple Daily, to testify.

Ming Pao live text coverage of the trial

【16:30】 Court adjourned.

【16:00】 Yeung Ching-kee discussed the principles of the Apple Daily’s commentary section, describing the forum as relatively open, with only three basic principles: 1) support for political democracy, 2) support for economic marketization, and 3) opposition to “Hong Kong independence”. He stated that these principles were communicated to him when he took over the commentary section in 2015 by the previous head of the section.

Yeung Ching-kee mentioned that a turning point in Jimmy Lai’s radical stance occurred after 2018, and the commentary section frequently updated its list of authors. He recalled that in 2016, Jimmy Lai proposed a list of suggested authors, which surprised him and other staff members because the list included several pro-establishment figures, with two of them being current members of the Executive Council.

Yeung Ching-kee indicated that the suggested author list from 2016 showed that Jimmy Lai wanted the Apple Daily forum to become more diverse. However, he and other staff members wondered if Jimmy Lai was “too naive”, thinking that pro-establishment figures were unlikely to write for Apple Daily. Yeung Ching-kee and his colleagues contacted the individuals listed on the suggested list, but none were successful. He said that at the time, Jimmy Lai had a “plan to talk” with one of the people on the list, “he tried to find that person to write, but ultimately it was not successful.”

Yeung Ching-kee mentioned that between 2016 and 2017, there were still a few pro-establishment figures writing for Apple Daily, “It wasn’t like after 2019, where there were absolutely no pro-establishment Legislative Council members.” Therefore, Yeung believed, “From my observation and perspective, the turning point for Jimmy Lai becoming more radical was after 2018.” He also noted that the list of authors Jimmy Lai proposed after 2018 reflected his increasingly radical stance, including Allan Au and “Yi Jian Piao Chen” (pen name一劍飄塵).

【15:50】 The prosecution continued to show the third editorial written by Li Ping, titled “The CCP’s Suppression and Sanctions Are Not to Be Feared,” published on July 14, 2020. Yeung Ching-kee stated that this editorial aimed to mock the CCP’s inability to counteract sanctions, “It won’t scare the targets of the sanctions, lacking deterrence.”

The fourth editorial by Li Ping was titled “Is the Government’s Goal to Eliminate COVID-19 or Freedom?” published on January 15, 2021. Yeung Ching-kee indicated that this editorial questioned whether the government’s surveillance was for pandemic prevention or for restricting citizens’ freedom, noting that at the time, Chinese media deleted instructions from then-Premier Li Keqiang, raising suspicions of China’s intention to conceal the epidemic.

When asked how this editorial related to Jimmy Lai’s thoughts, Yeung Ching-kee said, “As a commentator, when writing, I would definitely consider the position of the newspaper and the boss,” but he didn’t write editorials solely based on Jimmy Lai’s instructions every time, stating, “Sometimes it’s spontaneous, because the byline is under my own name.” He added that the reason for writing the fourth editorial “might be that I saw the official media deleting Li Keqiang’s instructions and felt compelled to write about it.”

【15:35:】 The prosecution presented another editorial titled “Spreading the virus to kill Hong Kong, the CCP’s evil deeds, the world pays the price,” written by Li Ping (Yeung Ching-kee’s pen name) and published on May 26, 2020. After Yeung Ching-kee read the editorial, he was asked what it was trying to express. He responded that the title already conveyed the message, which was that the coronavirus had caused severe casualties worldwide, and the implementation of the “National Security Law” could destroy Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom, with the whole world paying the price for it.

The editorial stated, “If the democratic world only offers verbal support and does not impose strong sanctions on the CCP politically, economically, and militarily, it’s no different from letting the real enemy of humanity, the historical criminal, continue to harm Hong Kong and the globe.” Yeung Ching-kee said that this viewpoint is exactly what Apple Daily and Jimmy Lai believe.

【15:00:】 The prosecution presented an editorial published on May 12, 2020, titled “Carrie Lam against the legislature, citizens against the black police, sworn to be incompatible,” written by Li Ping (Yeung Ching-kee’s pen name). The article stated, “Now, the Han and the thieves are incompatible, Hong Kong people will not kneel down, will not seek safety, and vow to be united with the brave, and the international alliance of Hong Kong, to fight to the end.”

When asked who “the Han and the thieves” referred to, Yeung Ching-kee responded that it’s a term from traditional Chinese culture generally referring to two opposing sides. In his article, the opposing sides were “the government proposing the amendment and the citizens opposing the amendment”; the “struggle” referred to the withdrawal of the “Extradition Bill.” Yeung Ching-kee added, “The viewpoints of Jimmy Lai’s columns are similar to mine.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang was concerned that the “amendment” incident began in March 2019 and wondered if it continued until the publication of the editorial the following year. Yeung Ching-kee responded that there might have been a “confusion in timing” and later corrected himself, saying, “At that time, it was about the five demands, which have never changed.” The defense suggested that the witness should be allowed to read the entire editorial before being questioned, which the judge agreed was a good idea.

After reading the editorial, Yeung Ching-kee noted that the citizens were affected by the pandemic, and the number of street protests had decreased. After the district council elections, the focus of the citizens shifted to the legislative council elections. He did not remember if the content of the editorial was related to the “amendment” or the “National Security Law.”

【14:33】 Court resumed. Yeung Ching-kee continued, stating that authors of the commentary section would submit articles about protests and sanctions to the editors for processing, and then to the production department for layout. Additionally, the articles would be uploaded to the online news platform and translated for use in the English edition.

Yeung Ching-kee also mentioned that, as the name suggests, editorials represent the stance of the newspaper. However, Apple Daily operated in a unique way, where the daily editorial was not the result of discussions among colleagues but decided by each writer individually. “Writers understand that they need to follow the basic position of the newspaper, and also, in a way, be mindful of Jimmy Lai’s stance and views,” he said. Therefore, during the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests, “the viewpoints of several editorial writers were not much different; all supported the protests and hoped the government would withdraw the extradition bill.” This stance was consistent with Jimmy Lai’s call in his columns for citizens to take to the streets and support sanctions.

【12:57】 Court adjourned.

【12:38】 The prosecution noted that Apple Daily had four known editorial writers from 2019 to 2021, including “Lo Fung” (Fung Wai-kong), “Gu Li” (Yeung Wai-hong), “Fang Yuan” (Ngan Shun-kau), and Yeung Ching-kee himself. Yeung stated that Lo Fung was the first among the four to start writing editorials for Apple Daily. When he was the deputy editorial writer, he also occasionally wrote articles, and ultimately, Jimmy Lai decided on the editorial writers. Lam Pun-lee was also one of the writers, brought in by Cheung Kim-hung, and Lam’s topics covered politics, economics, and society.

The prosecution showed a message sent by Cheung to Yeung:

“Chief Editorial Writer, some forum authors have mentioned that their submissions are sometimes suppressed. I understand that there might be a squeeze on space, but since Lo Fung is already writing two editorials a week, perhaps he doesn’t need to write for the forum. Thank you.”

Yeung replied: “Received, I will communicate more with the authors.”

Yeung explained in court that at the time, Cheung had received a complaint from someone that their submission was not published in Apple Daily, suggesting to stop Lo Fung’s column. However, he didn’t quite agree with the decision, so he only stated that he would communicate with the authors. Later, he continued to publish Lo’s articles in the forum section, and as a result, Cheung called him into the office and “scolded me in front of colleagues,” feeling that he was “disobedient,” and moved Ngan Shun-kau’s submissions to be published in the supplement section. It was then that Yeung learned the complainant was Ngan Shun-kau, as he had not agreed to give Ngan a fixed column in the forum. Yeung added that Cheung was very concerned about Ngan’s complaint, likely because Jimmy Lai highly appreciated Ngan’s work.

【12:13】 Court resumed. Yeung Ching-kee continued to testify that as the head of the commentary section, he rarely attended the “focus group meetings” (internal critique sessions) because the commentary section involved personal opinions of authors and the content was less likely to be criticized by staff. He mentioned that he needed to attend the “planning meetings” once a week to report on the topics for the commentary section for the upcoming Saturday, “occasionally, the senior management would give instructions or suggestions.” Yeung Ching-kee also stated that he had never seen Jimmy Lai attend the “planning meetings,” but if Jimmy Lai or senior management gave him instructions, he would follow up on them.

【11:30】 Court adjourned.

【11:10】 The prosecution presented a message sent by Cheung Kim-hung to Yeung Ching-kee on August 1, 2019, stating, “Taiwan Apple’s forum also found some good articles on the anti-authoritarian movement, we can also use them” and “In extraordinary times, many articles need more space. Please ask Man Chung to add staff for you.”

Yeung Ching-kee explained in court that the “anti-authoritarian movement” articles referred to the anti-extradition bill protests in 2019, described by Taiwan Apple as the “anti-authoritarian movement,” with a reporting angle supporting the protests of Hong Kong citizens and calling for international attention. Before Cheung Kim-hung contacted him, Hong Kong Apple Daily had already started using articles from Taiwan Apple Daily.

When asked about Cheung Kim-hung’s role in the above message, Yeung Ching-kee responded, “The commentary section is the smallest department in Apple Daily,” with only him and another colleague working there. The workload of “one edition a day” was already very challenging for the two of them, so when Cheung Kim-hung expressed a desire to increase the space for the commentary section, additional staff was definitely needed. Yeung Ching-kee continued, “Unfortunately, Cheung Kim-hung hadn’t read the articles but said there were good ones that needed to be published.” As for the staffing arrangement, “nothing was done afterwards, it was still two people, one edition a day.”

【10:40】 The prosecution presented a letter written on March 20, 2020. The sender identified themselves as “Xiao Hua,” and the recipient was addressed as “Uncle Chee-ying.” The letter criticized the CCP for acting recklessly and included an article titled “A Brief Review of Xi Jinping’s Governing Style,” hoping to submit it to the commentary section. Additionally, a note was attached to the letter, stating, “Li Ping, I haven’t read his article, please review if it’s useful.”

Yeung Ching-kee stated that at the time, Jimmy Lai forwarded the letter and the article to him, “Since it was passed on by the boss, although he said he hadn’t read it, if the article was passed on and there were no issues, I would definitely publish it.” Subsequently, the article was published in the commentary section after proofreading.

A similar example includes a letter written on August 15, 2020, addressed to Jimmy Lai. The letter stated, “Your newspaper is not just a paper, but a symbol of the pursuit of democracy and freedom, and resistance to tyranny. Like many Hongkongers, I have become an ‘instant reader’ of your paper.” A note on the letter said, “Brother Li Ping, the reader’s comments regarding the commentary section are worth considering.”

Yeung Ching-kee expressed that after receiving the letter from Jimmy Lai, he hesitated whether the reader’s comments were aimed at the commentary section or the supplement, as the letter mentioned the names of authors from the supplement. Nevertheless, Yeung Ching-kee published the letter in the commentary section and did not inform Jimmy Lai of its publication, reasoning, “He reads the newspaper thoroughly, if it was published, he would see it himself, no need for me to report it to him.”

【10:01】 Court resumed. Yeung Ching-kee (pen name Li Ping), the former chief editorial writer of Apple Daily, continued his testimony, stating that on June 17, 2021, when Cheung Kim-hung and other senior management were arrested, Lam Man-chung removed four members from a Signal group called “National Security Law Response Committee,” leaving only Yeung Ching-kee, Lam Man-chung, Fung Wai-kong (pen name Lo Fung), and the head of the China section, Jeung Mai-hung (蔣美紅). Since the group had an auto-delete setting for messages, the messages from June 17 had already disappeared.

Ming Pao reporters: Yeung Ji-kyun, Tong Bik-yu

Ming Pao

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