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Day 40: March 7, 2024

Ming Pao: Yeung Ching-Kee: After the National Security Law, Apple Daily still supports sanctions; commentary articles started to “play it close to the edge”

Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital, and the Apple Daily companies are involved in a case of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces. The trial continued today (March 7), and the former chief editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee testified that his criteria for selecting articles for the commentary section included relevance to current social events and alignment with readers’ preferences, such as opposition to the extradition bill amendment and support for sanctions. However, after the implementation of the National Security Law, “everyone was guessing where the red line was,” so he “played close to the edge” in writing and selecting articles. The articles would no longer openly call for sanctions but would comment on events instead.

The prosecution presented a message sent by the former chief editor of Apple Daily, Ryan Law Wai-kwong, to Yeung Ching-kee in August 2020, mentioning that the director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, Samuel Chu, hoped his submission could be published in the print newspaper. Yeung showed a screenshot of his conversation with the former publisher, Cheung Kim-Hung, from the same month, discussing the government’s wanted list of overseas individuals. Yeung said, “The publisher said not to pay them,” and Law replied, “We’ll decide after receiving the submission.” Yeung testified that he was not very familiar with Samuel Chu and his father, Reverend Chu Yiu-Ming, and did not have a deep impression of them but categorized them as overseas writers.

The prosecution also presented a message from December of the same year, in which Ryan Law forwarded an article by Nathan Law, the former chairman of Demosistō, titled “Sincerity Is the Greatest Skill” to Yeung. Yeung remembered that he published it as requested by Ryan Law. Since Nathan Law was one of the individuals rumored to be wanted by the government at that time, the article was only published online and not in the print newspaper; Apple Daily did not pay for articles published online.

The prosecution pointed out that Apple Daily published three articles after the implementation of the National Security Law in July 2020, including political commentator Lam Chi’s “Transnational Anti-China Encirclement,” “Yi Jian Piao Chen’s” (pen name一劍飄塵) “How Can There Be Peace and Prosperity Under the Barrel of a Gun?” and economist He Jiangbing’s “How Severe Are the US Secondary Sanctions?” Yeung Ching-kee said the articles were all related to sanctions. He had not heard any instructions from Jimmy Lai or other senior executives to change the stance on supporting sanctions after the law was implemented. However, to avoid breaking the law, he adjusted his approach in writing and selecting articles for the commentary section, “You could say it was a way of playing it close to the edge.”

Yeung cited some examples, including “Yi Jian Piao Chen’s” (pen name一劍飄塵)” “Will the US Sanction Carrie Lam?” in July 2020 and Lee Yee’s “Whistling in the Dark” in August, which analyzed the possibility of sanctions and satirized officials who were sanctioned. Yeung described Lee Yee as a senior commentator with a radical political stance and clear views, highly appreciated by Jimmy Lai.

Ming Pao

The Witness: Live Update|40th Day of Jimmy Lai’s Trial: Yeung Ching-kee: Lai “Used People to the Fullest” and Quickly Replaced Those Not Meeting His Expectations

Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital, and three related companies of Apple Daily are charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” and other crimes. The case continued its 40th day of trial on Thursday (March 7) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court). The third accomplice witness, former chief editorial writer of Apple Daily, Yeung Ching-kee, testified for the fourth day, mentioning his 23 years of work at Apple Daily and describing Jimmy Lai as a boss who was “both generous and ruthless.”

Yeung explained that Jimmy Lai distributed shares to employees when Apple Daily went public and when its online version was spun off, making the early management team “millionaires or even billionaires.” As for the “ruthless” side, he described Lai as someone who “used people to the fullest… and would quickly replace them if they did not meet his expectations.” Therefore, whether it was the management team or the heads of middle-level departments, if they wanted to stay at Apple Daily, they had to follow the boss’s instructions.

When asked if the authors on the list proposed by senior management for changes to the commentary section were in line with Lai’s political stance, Yeung said that when senior management designated authors to him, they mostly did not explain the reasons, but he reiterated that “not every author is related to Lai’s views and stance.”

16:31 Court adjournes

16:04 Prosecution questions about Lee Yee’s articles

The prosecution also questioned about author Lee Yee, asking about his writing perspective from 2019 to 2021. Yeung stated that Lee Yee’s political stance was “radical,” supporting protests and opposing the National Security Law, with “very clear views” and also supporting sanctions. Yeung added that Lee was a senior commentator and was appreciated by Lai.

The prosecution cited one of Lee Yee’s articles, “Whistling in the Dark,” published on August 10, 2020, and displayed the online version of the article, which showed a picture of former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying along with an excerpt from the article. Judge Alex Lee wan-tang asked whether Yeung was involved in the design of the online page when the article was released. Yeung confirmed he was.

The prosecution further cited a message between Fung Wai-kong and Yeung, in which Yeung messaged, “Lee Yee requested to add back a few sentences that were deleted. This article has been updated; please use this version for the English edition. Thank you,” along with a link to Lee’s article. Fung responded, “Have translated the old version already. What happened?” Yeung replied, “Added 200 words. I deleted a few sentences. The old man got angry and wanted me to add them back in the online version. The new version is in paragraphs three to five. Please add them in the English edition if possible… Some people don’t realize that newspapers have space and timing constraints; even deleting a few words leads to complaints.” The prosecution asked how often Lee Yee’s articles were translated into English. Yeung said he was not sure, as it was decided by the English edition staff.

Judge Alex Lee finally asked why Yeung allowed Apple Daily to publish articles supporting sanctions if he described Lee Yee’s articles as supporting sanctions. Yeung explained that Lee Yee also wrote in a “skirting the edge” manner, for example, his articles had satirized officials from China and Hong Kong who were sanctioned, “feeling unafraid of sanctions, like night walkers whistling.”

15:45 Prosecution questions about Benny Tai’s articles

The prosecution cited an article written by Lai on February 1, 2020, “Modern people are not animals that live outside the Western civilization mechanism,” and a message Lai sent to Yeung, “Li Ping, I wrote an article that is too long for the famous column with more than 3,000 words, and I want to transfer it to your section for publication…” Yeung confirmed in court that the article was published in the commentary section, but Lai’s column had actually been moved to the supplement section earlier. However, due to the length of the article, “Lai said to move it to the commentary section,” but Lai did not have a regular column in the commentary section. Yeung recalled that at the time, publishing Lai’s article required rescheduling some other articles to different days.

The prosecution continued to question about other writers, displaying Benny Tai’s articles “Could you and I both be fugitives?” from April 8, 2019, and “Primary election is a protest” from July 21, 2020. The prosecution asked about Tai’s writing perspective. Yeung described that during 2019, Tai’s articles mainly supported protests, and in 2020, as he initiated the primary election, most of his articles were related to the primary election.

15:15 Prosecution questions about Allan Au’s articles

The prosecution continued to question about another writer, senior media person Allan Au. The prosecution displayed a message from Lai to Yeung, where Lai first sent a picture of an article written by Allan Au in the Apple Daily supplement, stating, “Li Ping, Allan Au’s article is good, please consider inviting him to write for the commentary section.” Yeung explained in court that after reading Au’s article, he thought Lai wanted to invite Au to write because of “two characteristics”: “One is his good writing, and the second is his critical attitude towards the National Security Law.” Yeung said that he eventually contacted Au and arranged a column for him in the commentary section.

The prosecution displayed four articles written by Allan Au, including “Destruction is implementation, embrace and prosper” from July 4, 2020. Yeung confirmed that the content was related to the National Security Law. The prosecution then displayed three more articles by Au, including “2020 Hong Kong New Words,” “Wearing official robes and wigs to perform a bad play,” and “‘Incitement’ as a legal weapon.” Yeung confirmed that the latter two articles were published in the commentary section.

15:00 The prosecution continues to display commentary articles and asks about the author’s stance on sanctions

The prosecution continued to question the writers of the forum section, displaying messages between Lai and Yeung. On June 24, 2020, Lai sent a picture of an article by the author “Yi Jian Piao Chen” (pen name一劍飄塵), stating, “Li Ping, this is the best-written article on the whole page.” Yeung replied, “This author is newly found, thank you for the encouragement.”

Yeung added in court that “Yi Jian Piao Chen” is a freelance writer. Since Lai expressed appreciation for his articles, “I later occasionally asked this author to write some comments, but I didn’t give him a fixed column because I believe he might not be able to keep up with the immediate news in Hong Kong while in the United States.”

The prosecution cited an article by “Yi Jian Piao Chen” published on July 18, 2020, “Will the US Sanction Carrie Lam?” Does the stance support or oppose sanctions? Yeung said the article “didn’t say support or oppose,” but analyzed the possibility, similar to the “edge ball” approach he mentioned earlier. Yeung continued, “In my own comments, before the National Security Law was enacted, I had said I hoped the US would sanction Carrie Lam, but this article didn’t say to sanction her, just analyzing from the perspective of US legislation.”

14:32 Yeung: Inviting authors to write without a specific angle, letting them express themselves

The prosecution continued to display messages between Yeung and Chan Pui-man on November 5, 2020. Chan asked, “Is today’s writing related to the US election?” The prosecution then displayed an article from the forum section two days later, related to the US election. The prosecution asked if the topic was provided to Yeung by other senior management. Yeung denied, explaining that what Chan asked in the message was actually about his own “Apple Commentary.”

The prosecution was concerned about the angle of the special topic article on the US election in the forum section that day. Yeung said there was no specific angle when inviting authors to write, “letting them express themselves because the experts have their own positions and viewpoints.” Yeung confirmed that one of the articles was written by Professor Xia Ming, an overseas author.

12:55 Lunch break
12:30 Yeung: Writing “on the edge” after the National Security Law

The prosecution asked again, in summary, is the content of this special section related to sanctions? Yeung confirmed it was related to sanctions and the National Security Law. The prosecution asked again, does the special section support or oppose sanctions? Yeung said it supported sanctions. The prosecution asked, considering the National Security Law was implemented not long ago, what was the purpose of launching this special section? Yeung described that after the implementation of the National Security Law, he did not receive instructions from Lai or senior management about changing positions, and Apple Daily’s original position supported sanctions. His own writing of “Apple Commentary” and selection of articles for the forum section also supported sanctions.

Yeung continued, after the implementation of the National Security Law, openly calling for sanctions would be considered a violation of the National Security Law. As an editor, “I don’t want to violate the National Security Law, but also want to maintain the original position, so there must be changes in writing, which can be said to be a kind of ‘edge ball’ approach.” Yeung explained that at that time, “where the ‘red line’ of the National Security Law is drawn, everyone is guessing. When I play this ball, I don’t want to go out of bounds and break the law, so I play it on the edge.”

Yeung recalled, “After the National Security Law came into effect, whether it’s my own articles or my selection for the forum section, there was no longer an open call for sanctions. But through the commentary on sanctions events, similar to analyzing the next method of sanctions or severity, it expresses the original position of supporting sanctions.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if Yeung’s approach was walking in a “gray area”? Yeung agreed. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if Yeung decided to produce this special section after discussing it with others. Yeung said partly, because the special section was decided by him after discussing with colleagues, and then he sent a message to Lam Man-chung to report, “He (Lam) didn’t say yes or no, so I just did it.”

The prosecution continued to focus on the bottom of the page mentioning “Welcome to Submit Articles” and providing an email address. Yeung confirmed that they would receive submissions from readers. The prosecution asked what principles Yeung used to select submissions. Yeung explained that the main considerations were whether the article could respond to current social events and political news, and whether the article’s viewpoint was “right for Apple Daily readers,” also considering the author’s expression.

The prosecution asked what it meant to consider “Apple Daily readers’ tastes.” Yeung explained that during the anti-extradition movement, most Apple Daily readers opposed the government’s amendment, and when the US legislated sanctions against officials in China and Hong Kong, readers tended to “like to read some articles supporting sanctions.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if Lai’s political position was related to Yeung’s selection of articles. Yeung said it definitely was, because when Yeung read Lai’s articles, he used Lai’s viewpoints as “guidance for writing and selecting articles.”

12:10 Yeung confirms continued submissions from Nathan Law after rumored wanted status
The prosecution displayed the “Hot Topics of the Week” from the forum section on July 4, 2020, with the theme “Hong Kong on the International Chessboard.” The section includes articles by three different authors, including “Chinese financial scholar – He Jiangbing” with the article “How Severe Are the US’s Secondary Financial Sanctions?” Yeung confirmed that He Jiangbing is a freelance writer invited by him to write for Apple Daily. Yeung describes He as an economist who discusses issues from an economic perspective.

The prosecution pointed out another article in the section written by “US-based writer – Yi Jian Piao Chen” titled “How Can There Be Peace and Happiness Under the Gun?” Yeung describes in court that “Yi Jian Piao Chen” is a writer appreciated by Lai, also a freelance writer, probably invited by Yeung himself to write for Apple Daily after 2019. Yeung mentions that he got to know the writers through their articles on Twitter. The prosecution asked if the description of the writer as a “US-based writer” is related to Yeung’s earlier mention of Lai’s instruction to increase overseas writers. Yeung said, “It’s not in terms of time,” but confirmed the writer is an overseas author.

Regarding earlier messages sent by Cheung Kim-hung and Yeung about the government’s wanted list, the prosecution has shown messages between Ryan Law Wai-kwong and Yeung mentioning submissions from Samuel Chu Muk Man and Nathan Law. Yeung adds in court that since the government did not publicize the wanted list at that time, only some rumors circulated, so he was not sure if these two individuals were actually wanted.

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if, after receiving Cheung Kim-hung’s message about the issue of payment for wanted individuals, did any wanted individuals submit articles to Apple Daily, and did Apple Daily publish any related articles? Yeung said there were none in print media, but there were in the online forum section, as mentioned in the message about Nathan Law, who was rumored to be wanted at that time. However, the online forum itself does not provide payment to authors, so “there’s no issue of whether to pay or not.”

The prosecution then displayed the third related article, titled “The International Anti-China Encirclement,” written by “current affairs commentator – Lam Kai.” Yeung confirmed that Lam Kai is a freelance writer who started writing for Apple Daily shortly after Yeung took over the forum section.

11:26 Court adjourned

11:15 Prosecution: Did senior management give instructions on forum section topics?
Yeung: “Testing my memory, my head is going to explode”

The prosecution again cites a message sent by Ryan Law Wai-kwong on May 12, 2021, with a link to the article “Commentary on the Fire Network: Beijing Wins Alone by Overthrowing Hong Kong’s Electoral System” (Ivan Choy Chi-keung), asking “Can this article be published in the online forum?” The prosecution asked about Ivan Choy Chi-keung’s writing angle. Yeung said the related article is from Taiwan Apple Daily, “The author and I are not familiar; he submitted to Taiwan’s, not Hong Kong Apple Daily.”

The prosecution then displayed a conversation between Lam Man-chung and Yeung on April 5, 2019, where Lam forwarded a message, “The Medical Council is infuriating! We can organize an article for the forum,” and mentioned the message is from “Mr. Cheung” Yeung responded at the time, “Preparing for Hot Topics next Saturday.” Yeung indicated in court that “Mr. Cheung” should be Cheung Kim-hung, and the content should be related to the prepared topic.

The prosecution continued to ask, from 2019 to 2021, did senior management give instructions on the weekly topics for the forum section regarding protests, riots, and sanctions? Yeung said in court, “Testing my memory, my head is going to explode,” and added under questioning that the topics are generally “thought up by me and my colleagues… based on the news,” and then reported to Lam Man-chung.

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked again, so between 2019 and 2021, did senior management provide specific topics for the weekly special section? Yeung said yes. The prosecution asked, what topics did that include? Yeung laughed in court and said, “That’s testing my memory again; it would be easier to recite hundreds of Tang and Song poems to you.” Yeung explained that at the time, the selection of topics was “interactive”; sometimes during planning meetings, he would make suggestions, “Sometimes we sit down to eat and chat, they sometimes make suggestions, including hot topics in society at the time, which definitely include sanctions, social events, and the National Security Law.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang noted that Yeung’s explanation is based on the topics conceived during exchanges with colleagues, but did senior management propose special topics to him? Yeung confirmed they did. The prosecution continued to ask, when Yeung attended planning meetings, was he ever asked to change the special topic? Yeung said no, “It means the topics I selected met their requirements.”

11:00 Messages show submissions from Samuel Chu Muk-man and Nathan Law
Ryan Law Wai-kwong requested Yeung to follow up

The prosecution continued to display WhatsApp conversations between Ryan Law Wai-kwong and Yeung, in which Law sent a message on August 25, 2020, stating, “Samuel Chu Muk-man submitted ‘A Letter to Muk,’ he wants it published in the newspaper, can we arrange a date after submission? I want it to be published in both Chinese and English on the same day.” At the time, Yeung replied, “There’s a spot on Thursday.” Law then mentioned, “His goal is to submit by this Friday, it’s better to arrange once we receive the submission.”

Yeung then sent a screenshot of a message from Cheung Kim-hung, which read, “Ching-kee, the government has issued warrants for several overseas individuals, saying they violated the National Security Law, if they submit articles, we can’t conveniently pay them.” Yeung also told Law, “The publisher said, don’t pay them.” Law then replied, “No problem, we have a consensus, (the content is in the form of a family letter, it shouldn’t ‘trouble’ us, we’ll decide once we see the content of the submission).”

The prosecution asked if Samuel Chu Muk-man is the son of Pastor Chu Yiu-ming? Yeung said he was not familiar with the two and did not remember how Ryan Law Wai-kwong knew them. The prosecution then asked what the consensus mentioned by Ryan Law Wai-kwong meant? Yeung said he did not ask further at the time, but as far as he remembered, they ultimately did not receive the related submission.

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked, regarding Law’s message “we’ll decide once we see the content of the submission,” did it mean to decide whether to publish or whether to pay? Yeung said it meant both.

The prosecution then cited a message between Ryan Law Wai-kwong and Yeung on December 31, 2020, where Law sent a document and said it was a “submission from Nathan Law,” telling Yeung, “Ching-kee, it can be in the newspaper or online, please take a look. If there’s a publication date, please inform me, I’ll tell him not to submit elsewhere.” Yeung replied at the time, “Can I put it online tomorrow?” Yeung indicated in court that he eventually uploaded the article to the online forum section.

10:30 Yeung: “Lai is a generous boss, but also a ruthless boss”

The prosecution continued to ask, when Lai proposed changes to the list of writers, did Yeung consider it an instruction? Yeung responded, “I’m working here, so if there’s an instruction, I have to execute it, I won’t ask why.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang further asked, did Lai have an official position at Apple Daily between 2019 and 2020? Yeung said, “There was none on paper.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang then asked, since Lai did not have any official position, why did Yeung still feel he had to follow Lai’s instructions? Yeung described, “In my impression, Lai is a generous boss, but also a ruthless boss.” Yeung explained, “Speaking of his generosity, when Apple Daily went public and when the online edition was spun off, he distributed shares to employees, making early senior management personnel millionaires, even billionaires.”

Yeung continued, “As for calling him ruthless, it might be an exaggeration, but he used people to the fullest. If someone didn’t meet his expectations, he would quickly replace them. I’ve been at Apple Daily for 23 years, and during that time, there have been 7 to 8 changes of editors-in-chief and publishers. His (Lai’s) demand for news is always for something new and different, and the simplest and most direct way is to change people.”

Yeung also said, “His (Lai’s) method is called ‘shaking the big tree,’ which is a way to change people. Whether it’s senior management or middle-level department heads, if you want to stay at Apple Daily, you have to follow the boss’s instructions and proactively do your job well. I wanted to stay at Apple Daily, so I had to follow his instructions.”

The prosecution then asked, when senior management proposed changes to the list of authors, were the related authors in line with Lai’s political stance? Yeung said that when senior management designated authors to him, they mostly did not explain the reasons, and Yeung would arrange the layout based on the authors’ writing abilities, reiterating, “Not every author is related to Lai’s views and stance.”

10:15 Prosecution asks about the list of authors for the Apple Daily forum section
Former Apple Daily chief editorial writer

Yeung Ching-kee continued to be questioned by prosecutor Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan. The prosecution asked about the list of writers for the Apple Daily forum section, which Yeung had previously claimed was discussed with Lai and Chan Pui-man in early 2016. The prosecution asked again on Thursday, at the time of the discussion, was the list of writers already prepared, or did it take some time to compile the list? Yeung recalled that after two or three rounds of discussions, the list was compiled. Yeung continued, the forum section originally had a group of authors writing, and Lai later requested to add certain writers, but they did not agree to contribute to Apple Daily.

The prosecution continued to ask, at that time, were they discussing regular columnists or irregular freelance writers? Yeung said mainly columnists. The prosecution then asked, Yeung had previously claimed that Lai’s stance became more radical after 2018, what authors did that include at that time? Yeung said, the range of authors was “broader” at that time, including leaders of pro-democracy political parties, pro-establishment legislative councilors, and pro-establishment leaders.

The prosecution read out a series of author names from 2018, including former associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, Benny Tai, and founding chairman of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee. Yeung confirmed that Tai was already writing for Apple Daily at the time, and Lee’s column was transferred to the Apple Daily forum section after the physical edition of Next Magazine was suspended. The prosecution continued to ask about Simon Lee, Fung Wai-kong (Lo Fung), Yeung Wai-hong (Ku Lei), Simon Lau Sai-leung, Gu Deming , Lee Yee, Edward Chin, and Poon Siu-to. Yeung confirmed that Simon Lee, Lo Fung, Simon Lau Sai-leung, Gu Deming, Edward Chin, and Poon Siu-to were all writing for Apple Daily at the time, and Lee Yee had been contributing to Apple Daily even earlier. Ku Lei’s situation was the same as Martin Lee’s, with his column transferred to the forum section after the physical edition of Next Magazine was suspended. Yeung confirmed that all the above authors were columnists.

The prosecution asked, who could change the list of writers? Yeung said, most of the time, he proposed changes, and Lai and other senior management would also designate authors, which he would then arrange in the layout.

10:02 Court resumes

The Witness

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