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Day 43: March 12, 2024

The Witness: Live update | Jimmy Lai trial Day 43 – Yeung Ching-kee confirms under cross-examination that Lai had proposed inviting Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, and others to write articles.

Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and three Apple Daily related companies are charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” among other crimes. The case entered its 43rd day of trial on Tuesday (March 12th) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court). Yeung Ching-kee, the third accomplice witness and former chief editorial writer of Apple Daily, testified for the seventh day, beginning cross-examination by the defense.

During cross-examination, Yeung agreed that democracy encompasses press and freedom of speech. As the person in charge of the forum section, he followed the principles of previous editors when selecting articles, considering whether the articles were well-written, adhered to democratic principles, supported market economy, and did not advocate for Hong Kong independence. When asked if he could make independent decisions, Yeung said, “Not entirely.” Yeung confirmed that he had previously refused to publish articles proposed by Jimmy Lai in the forum section, but he added, “It’s not as simple as just rejecting it; there are other things to communicate.”

The case is presided over by High Court judges designated under the National Security Law, Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wan-tang. The prosecution is represented by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, and Senior Prosecuting Officer Crystal Chan Wing-sum; Jimmy Lai is represented by Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung, Barrister Steven Kwan, and New Zealand Queen’s Counsel Marc Corlett with Hong Kong practicing qualifications.

12:52 Court adjourned

12:51 Yeung Ching-kee completes testimony, Andy Li expected to appear on Wednesday

The prosecution completed their cross-examination, and Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping told Yeung that his testimony was complete. Yeung thanked her and nodded to the public gallery before leaving the witness stand.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang requested to adjourn the case until Wednesday (13th) to prepare for the next witness, one of the “12 Hongkongers,” Andy Li’s body order.

12:22 Yeung: Apple Daily’s editorial autonomy is like a “birdcage”

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan began the cross-examination, focusing on the article about Weijian Shan. Yeung claimed that he initially communicated with his colleague Chan Pui-man. The prosecution presented WhatsApp records showing that on September 3, 2019, Chan said, “I forwarded an article to you by email. Mr. Lai wants you to refute it in the name of Li Ping. Please call Mr. Lai after reading it.” Yeung responded at the time, “Do we really need to publish and refute this garbage? If the CCP keeps playing this game, the forum will be ruined. I communicated with the boss, and he eventually felt it wasn’t worth refuting, so we didn’t publish it.”

Yeung added in court that Weijian Shan was probably Lai’s friend. In fact, Lai “didn’t think the article’s viewpoint was good, but still wanted to publish Shan’s article, so he used my name to refute it. I felt that if such articles frequently appeared in the forum, it would be difficult to manage if it was ruined.” Yeung explained that Lai later “asked me to refute it in my name. I clarified that I wasn’t writing an article to refute it,” but wrote a sentence on WhatsApp evaluating the article, explaining why it wasn’t published. Lai forwarded this message to the author, indicating that it was an editorial decision not to use his submission.

The prosecution further asked what Yeung meant by Lai also thinking Weijian Shan’s article “wasn’t good.” Yeung said he couldn’t remember the content of the article, “because I read the articles forwarded by Mr. Lai,” and after communicating with Chan Pui-man and Lai, “we decided not to use it, but Mr. Lai needed to give the author an explanation, and it couldn’t be as frank and impolite as our communication, so I wrote a message for Mr. Lai to forward,” which was “Shan’s article is a rehash of old arguments. How can we talk about democratic progress when a Chief Executive doesn’t even have the freedom to resign? The forum has not planned to adopt it. Thank you.”

The prosecution asked what Yeung meant by the message indicating it was an “editorial decision.” Yeung described his deep feelings and experiences about editorial autonomy, “I’ve worked in the media for over 30 years, and I’ve worked in 5 newspapers and TV stations. I feel that after the rise of the internet and the decline of traditional media, ‘editorial autonomy’ has almost become a myth.” Yeung explained, “Because the media, in order to attract a specific reader group, have their own stance. I think I can use a political term, ‘birdcage democracy,’ to metaphorically describe the editorial autonomy of newspapers like Apple Daily.”

Yeung continued, “It’s called ‘birdcage autonomy,’ and in politics, it’s ‘birdcage democracy.’ In terms of editing, it’s ‘birdcage autonomy.’ When Mr. Lai sets the basic stance of Apple Daily, it’s like setting the ‘birdcage.’ Then, editorial staff have a certain degree of freedom and autonomy within the ‘birdcage,’ but they can’t exceed this framework, that is, they can’t go beyond the ‘birdcage.’ It’s not simple to say whether there is editorial autonomy.” The prosecution asked if the birdcage set by Lai was the instructions Yeung mentioned in his testimony. Yeung confirmed.

12:10 Yeung agrees that Apple Daily articles aim to highlight improper governance, not criticism for the sake of criticism

The defense further questioned Yeung about the “Lunchbox Meeting,” noting that Yeung had a video meeting with the police on June 24, 2021. The transcript from the meeting was presented in court, showing Yeung’s response to the question of what a “Lunchbox Meeting” was: “It’s just sitting down and discussing if there are any issues, like if there are any difficulties in work that require Mr. Lai’s intervention to resolve.” Yeung confirmed this.

The defense then questioned the perspective of the forum articles, noting that some articles adopt a critical attitude towards the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, which Yeung confirmed. The defense described that Apple Daily’s articles criticize to point out the improper governance of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Yeung agreed. The defense continued, hoping that by pointing out the improper governance, the government would improve policies to prevent similar mistakes in the future. Yeung confirmed. The defense stated that Apple Daily does not criticize for the sake of criticizing. Yeung said, “You can say that.”

The defense mentioned that after the implementation of the National Security Law, Yeung claimed to work in a way that “played around the edges” and asked if it was to avoid breaking the law while maintaining his principles. Yeung confirmed and also confirmed that he would not break the law knowingly. The defense concluded their questions, and the lawyer representing the three companies, Jon K.H. Wong, did not have any questions. The prosecution began their cross-examination.

12:02 Defense points out that Lai did not mention sanctions at a dinner in 2020, Yeung: “I’m sure he did”

Yeung previously claimed that he had dined at Lai’s residence several times, including on June 23, 2020, during which everyone was concerned about whether Lai would be arrested. Yeung said, “Mr. Lai said he wasn’t afraid, and if he were arrested, it would further prove the CCP and the Hong Kong government’s repression of human rights and press freedom. He believed that the US, UK, and Europe would not stand idly by” and would take sanctions measures, which overall would help improve human rights in Hong Kong.

The defense suggested that the dinner took place four years ago, and Lai might not have explicitly mentioned sanctions at that time. Yeung insisted, “I’m sure he did.” The defense asked if Yeung had recorded the conversation from the dinner. Yeung confirmed he had not. The defense further pointed out that Lai only expressed belief that the UK, US, and Europe would take action, but did not mention sanctions. Yeung disagreed but confirmed that he only remembered Lai’s words based on memory.

11:13 Court adjourned

11:00 Yeung confirms that he had discussed with Lai about finding Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, and John Tsang Chun-wah to write articles

Yeung previously claimed that he had discussed the list of writers with Chan Pui-man and Lai in 2016. The defense showed a message between Chan and Yeung from April 2018, where Chan asked, “What new authors do you suggest we find?” Yeung responded, “We have been preparing to update the group of authors, mainly looking for scholars and political party leaders, but it’s very slow… As a result, there is no ideal replacement candidate for now.” Yeung explained in court that he was discussing the list of writers with Chan at the time, but the situation in the message was not the same as the previous claim of discussing the list with Lai and Chan. Yeung confirmed that the list of writers would be updated from time to time.

The defense pointed out that in April 2018, Chan Pui-man, Yeung, and Lai had suggested finding Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) founding chairman Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, Executive Council member Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, and former Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to write for Apple Daily? Yeung confirmed.

The defense continued to point out that Yeung previously claimed that sanctions could prevent the government from amending the extradition law and implementing the National Security Law, but not all forum writers shared the same view? Yeung confirmed.

The defense showed an article published on June 20, 2020, written by Wang Kun-yi, chairman of the Taiwan International Strategic Study Society, titled “Hong Kong and Taiwan ‘Joining Hands Against China’ May Be a Pipe Dream.” Yeung confirmed that the author did not believe in sanctions, but Yeung still published his article.

Yeung explained, “This is sometimes the awkward part of being an editor. When I invite an author to write an article, what he tells me and what he ends up writing may not be consistent. It’s hard for me to go back on my word and not use his article, especially when I have no other articles on hand and might need to leave a gap in the publication. After this article was published, it was criticized by readers. I remember someone writing a letter directly to Mr. Lai, who then forwarded the letter to me.”

The defense then showed an email record between Yeung and Wang Kun-yi from November 20, 2020, in which Yeung wrote, “Professor Wang, hello. The Apple Daily forum section plans to have a special topic this weekend to discuss the impact of the U.S. presidential election. Could you spare some time to write an analysis of the impact of Biden’s entry into the White House on Taiwan-U.S. relations? What considerations might there be for Tsai Ing-wen’s quicker congratulations than Xi Jinping’s? About 1600 words, deadline on Thursday. Thank you. Li Ping.”

The defense pointed out that Yeung continued to contact the other party, and upon hearing this, Yeung said, “I’m a bit curious, why does the lawyer have my private email with him?” The defense pointed out that the prosecution has a responsibility to provide information related to the case to the defense, and Yeung laughed, “I don’t know when the prosecution found this record… OK, no problem.” The defense also laughed and said, “Then you might have to ask Mr. Cheung from the prosecution.”

Yeung then responded to the defense’s questions, “Because Wang Kun-yi is a relatively well-known scholar in Taiwan, some of his views may not fully align with the stance of Apple Daily, but they can still be justified.”

10:30 Yeung: Generally, writers chose their own topics, but if readers disagreed, the writer would be replaced

The defense further asked if forum writers could decide on their own topics? Yeung said, “Not always, sometimes (the topics) are suggested by me and them.” The defense then showed a message between writer Takahashi and Yeung in December 2020, in which Takahashi said, “Next week, I still need to write about Wang Yi’s speech and the ignorance and shamelessness of Japanese media. Please understand.” Yeung replied, “We generally do not interfere with the selection of topics and viewpoints. But if more readers disagree, we need to change the writer.” Regarding the message “if more readers disagree, we need to change the writer,” Yeung added in court, “It’s like what Lai did to us,” if editors don’t follow his instructions, he would replace them.

The defense showed another message between Takahashi and Yeung, where Yeung suggested following up on the news of Japan complying with US sanctions, but Takahashi disagreed. Yeung had responded, “We generally do not interfere with topic selection, whether to write or how to write is up to you. This news is just provided for your reference because Apple readers are concerned about it.” The defense continued to ask if the principle of not interfering with writers applied to other writers as well? Yeung explained in court that saying “yes” would not be accurate, admitting, “Actually, I am interfering with his (Takahashi’s) topic selection. I have warned him that if it’s not in line with Apple’s stance and viewpoint, I might have to change the writer.” Yeung continued, if he insisted on using writers who do not match Apple’s stance, “I might be the one getting fired, as there have been precedents before.”

The defense described these as business decisions? Yeung said, “Starting from political stance, considering the stance and viewpoint.” The defense continued, Apple readers expect to read articles with specific viewpoints in the forum? Yeung confirmed. The defense continued, if Apple Daily does not provide articles with relevant viewpoints, readers might turn to other newspapers? Yeung agreed. The defense further asked, so Apple Daily is just providing articles that readers want to read? Yeung said in court, “There are two sides to it, on one hand, we need to cater to readers’ tastes, on the other hand, we need to stick to our political stance and viewpoint.”

The defense continued, in handling individual articles, Apple Daily does not have a review and approval process? Yeung said, “There is an approval,” because “ultimately, at least I need to agree, I need to be OK with it before it can be published.” The defense gave an example, if an article advocates for Hong Kong independence, Yeung would not approve its publication? Yeung agreed. The defense gave another example, if an article encourages illegal activities, Yeung would also not approve its publication? Yeung said, “If the content is clearly illegal, then no. But if it was like what I said before, ‘playing around the edges’ and aligned with Apple Daily’s stance, I might publish it.”

10:20 Yeung Ching-kee agreed to have rejected Lai’s suggestion but “there were other things to communicate”

The defense showed a message exchange between Lai and Yeung on September 3, 2019, in which Lai said: “Brother Li Ping, please call back after reading Mr. Don Weijin’s article.” Yeung then replied, “It’s 1800 words long, both lengthy and stinky, just self-deceiving… Mr. Don’s article is just old clichés, how can there be any democratic progress when a Chief Executive doesn’t even have the freedom to resign? The forum has not planned to adopt it.”

The defense asked if Yeung had rejected Lai’s suggestion and then decided not to use the article? Yeung confirmed, but stressed “it’s not just a simple rejection that can be explained, there were other things to communicate.” Yeung recalled that at the time, Lai contacted him through Vice President Chan Pui-man, “This part of the conversation is just a part, not the whole.” The defense described Yeung’s response at the time as honestly expressing his opinion? Yeung confirmed.

The defense continued to point out that Yeung had also rejected articles provided by other colleagues? Yeung agreed. The defense then showed a message from then Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong to Yeung on June 15, 2019, in which Law forwarded four photos of handwritten letters and forwarded the message “provided by League of Social Democrats figo, Raymond Wong Ho-ming’s latest prison letter.” Yeung replied, “It’s too urgent for Sunday, there’s no forum. Ask if they want it online.” Law replied, “OK, you decide.” Yeung finally said, “I’ll ask figo. Thanks. He agreed to publish it online. Please ask the online team to help put it on the internet.” Yeung confirmed the content of the message.

10:10 Yeung agreed under questioning that democracy includes press and freedom of speech

Former Apple Daily Chief Editor Yeung Ching-kee testified for the seventh day, with defense Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung beginning the cross-examination, starting with basic principles. The defense asked if Yeung agreed that democracy is good, while authoritarianism is bad? Yeung agreed. The defense continued to ask if democracy includes fair elections, press freedom, and freedom of speech? Yeung agreed.

The defense continued to point out that as the person in charge of the forum, Yeung had to adhere to several principles when choosing articles, including that Yeung thought the article was well-written, adhered to democratic principles, market economy, and did not advocate for Hong Kong independence? Yeung confirmed. The defense asked if these principles were set by Yeung? Yeung replied that they were inherited from previous editors. The defense continued to ask if Yeung’s colleagues at Apple Daily also held these principles? Yeung confirmed. The defense pointed out that Yeung could feel his colleagues believed in these principles during daily communication and interaction, so there was no need to emphasize them explicitly? Yeung said, “No need to say it every day.”

The defense pointed out that apart from the above principles, Yeung could make independent decisions when selecting articles and writers? Yeung said, “Not all.” The defense asked if most of the decisions were still independent? Yeung said, “I understand ‘editorial autonomy’ is not described in percentages.”

10:05 Court resumed

The Witness

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