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Day 70: May 6, 2024

The Witness: Day 70 of the trial of Jimmy Lai: Chan Tsz-wah reaffirms the accuracy of his testimony after becoming a prosecution witness

Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital and three related companies connected to Apple Daily, faces charges of “conspiring with foreign forces” among others. The trial, which commenced at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court (acting as the High Court) on Monday (the 70th day of the trial), saw the testimony of the fifth “accomplice witness,” Chan Tsz-wah, on his twelfth day of testimony. The defense had previously completed their cross-examination, and it was now the prosecution’s turn for re-examination.

Chan Tsz-wah confirmed that the content of his initial statement, given during his first interrogation, was false. However, he asserted that the content of his statements after deciding to become a prosecution witness was not false. He admitted to a change in mindset during this period, stating, “Because my initial statement was not truthful, I wanted to tell the truth, as I did not want to face blame,” adding, “I did not want to face the blame of my conscience.” Consequently, in late March to early April 2021, he volunteered to become a prosecution witness to the police.

The case is presided over by judges designated under the National Security Law: Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wan-tang. Representing the prosecution are Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, and Senior Public Prosecutor Crystal Chan Wing-sum. Jimmy Lai is represented by Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung, Barrister Steven Kwan, and Marc Corlett, a New Zealand barrister qualified to practice in Hong Kong.

16:21 The prosecution reveals intention to summon Royston Chow Tat-kuen as a witness

Regarding Chan’s responses to the judges’ questions, the defense asked whether Chan had seen any interviews with Lai between the implementation of the National Security Law and Lai’s arrest on August 10, 2020? Chan stated, “I should have seen at least one,” but he couldn’t recall the interviewee or whether the content mentioned sanctions. As for Chan’s mention of seeing Lai’s call for sanctions online, Chan said that although he hadn’t read the articles, he saw the article links, “The title was about hoping for more foreign countries to sanction the Hong Kong government.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked on which platform Chan saw the links to Lai’s articles? Chan said it was on Telegram. Alex Lee Wan-tang continued to ask if Chan believed Lai would call for sanctions? Chan replied, “Yes, I believe so, and I don’t need to complicate things, I can ask Mark Simon directly,” and he mentioned staying in contact with Mark Simon until his own arrest in February 2021, adding, “If you ask me whether I know if Jimmy Lai continues to (call for sanctions), Mark Simon told me he is continuing.”

The defense stated that they would continue questioning on Tuesday (the 7th), while the prosecution indicated that after Chan Chi-wah completes his testimony tomorrow, they will summon another witness, Royston Chow Tat-kuen, with the main questioning expected to be completed within a day. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang mentioned his busy schedule and inquired about the progress of the trial. The prosecution stated that after the witness testifies, both the prosecution and defense will discuss whether to continue summoning expert witnesses. Defense lawyer Robert Pang Yiu-hung also mentioned the possibility of requesting the prosecution to summon 6 to 7 police officers.

Alex Lee Wan-tang asked again if there is still a need to play the 35-hour “Live Chat with Jimmy Lai,” and Robert Pang Yiu-hung emphasized the importance of the program. Alex Lee Wan-tang asked whether the trial would extend until early June? Robert Pang Yiu-hung indicated that it might extend until late May or early June.

15:55 Judges ask questions about Chan’s testimony

The judges asked questions regarding Chan’s testimony. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked why Chan arranged for Andy Li to attend a “meeting” at the Fotan industrial building in July to August 2019? Chan replied that at that time, he was in a Telegram group with promotional materials and members of the pro-democracy movement. Someone in the group sent out messages inviting members to attend the meeting, “They wanted more diverse people to attend, so I asked Li if he wanted to come, and he did.”

Alex Lee Wan-tang also asked about the meeting with U.S. Senator Rick Scott in September 2019, whether Chan arranged for Li to attend in his place? Chan said, “It’s not a replacement, because at the time, Mark Simon also wanted someone else. He asked me first, but he also wanted frontline protesters to talk about what it was like to protest.” Alex Lee Wan-tang asked about the sequence of the Fotan meeting and meeting Rick Scott? Chan said he attended the Fotan meeting first.

Furthermore, in response to Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping’s question, Chan indicated that he did not know about Lai’s column in Apple Daily or had not seen the English electronic version of Apple Daily. He also learned about the “Live Chat with Jimmy Lai” program later when someone forwarded relevant links to him.

Regarding Chan’s statement under questioning that after the National Security Law came into effect, he believed that sanctions needed to continue, “Because even figures like Jimmy Lai can act without fear, or even set an example, so I think there are things that need to be done, but I was still considering what steps to take at that time.”

Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked how Lai set an example? Chan stated that as far as he knew, Lai invited or arranged for many celebrities or think tanks to conduct interviews, “At that time, I didn’t know if it would be in the form of a program or just a point, but I knew he continued to speak out, and at that time, he also continued to express his opinions on social media.”

Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked when Lai expressed his opinions? Chan said it was during their sixth meeting at the Next Media Building, even after the implementation of the National Security Law, and he saw Lai calling for sanctions online. Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked again, what international lobbying did Lai engage in from the implementation of the National Security Law until his arrest on August 10, 2020? Chan said Lai promoted the Hong Kong Safe Haven Act in the United States, and conducted interviews with think tanks and foreign political figures as mentioned earlier, “He found people to do translations in the United States, and one of the translators was someone I knew, and he told me about it.”

Regarding the messages between Chan and Lai, Chan said “I have to be the last one standing,” and Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked what Chan’s thoughts were at the time? Chan explained that at the time, he believed that if Andy Li could leave, he would be the last person in Hong Kong to continue contacting SWHK, but the premise was that Lee would leave, Mark Simon was not in Hong Kong, and “After Jimmy Lai leaves Hong Kong or is arrested, we can’t contact him except through Mark Simon. In that case, I would be the last one in Hong Kong.”

15:45 Chan: After the district council elections, Lai and others believed that the “Lam Chau” team could unite with the “old pan-democrats.”

Regarding statements made during the video interview after Chan’s initial arrest, “Because I had doubts about some of the purposes or even the background of SWHK, I might have made some negative comments, maybe privately to friends or even with family.” Chan explained that at the time, he did not have doubts about the purposes or background of SWHK, “but I did make some negative comments about SWHK to friends,” including Li.

In response to questions about Chan’s statement under questioning that initially, Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, and Mark Simon had a negative attitude towards the “Lam Chau” team, the prosecution asked about their subsequent attitudes. Chan stated that after the district council elections, their stance on the “confrontation” changed. “They no longer criticized it or opposed the Lam Chau team, especially on the international front, they believed that Lam Chau team could be united.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked, “With whom did they unite?” Chan said it was with the “old pan-democrats.” The prosecution indicated they had completed their cross-examination.

15:18 Chan: Lai intended to organize a “grand stage” for peaceful and valiant protests, led by him.

Regarding Chan’s denial under questioning that his valiant group was involved in events like the “721 Yuen Long” incident, protests at the Liaison Office, and the 2020 Port Explosives incident, the prosecution asked if he had discussed the Liaison Office protest and the 2020 Port Explosives incident with Li. Chan admitted he did, but clarified it wasn’t about his valiant group being involved in those events. When asked if he had brought up this topic, Chan confirmed. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang remarked to the prosecution, “This is news; everyone discusses it.”

Regarding the defense’s questioning, which stated that in July to August 2019, Chan met with Li in an underground factory in Fo Tan and introduced “Captain” as the leader of the valiant group, and Cath was responsible for making explosives and petrol bombs, Chan denied it, saying, “It wasn’t like that, I just said he (Cath) seemed to like playing with fire.” Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked, “What is ‘playing with fire’?” Chan explained, “It should be burning garbage or burning roadblocks, stacking garbage in the middle of the road and burning it.”

The prosecution pointed out that Chan claimed Lai wanted to become the leader of the valiant group, to which Chan responded, “I think I didn’t say he wanted to become the leader of the valiant group. He wanted to organize a grand stage that spans both peaceful and valiant protests, and this grand stage would be under his leadership.” Chan further explained that at the time, there was no such “grand stage” for the valiant groups; there were only scattered, particularly famous valiant squads. So, if the leaders of these valiant squads, along with a few leaders of peaceful protests, could form a leadership team, it would essentially lead the entire social movement. That was what he meant at the time.

14:54 Chan: “If Andy Li is arrested, Mark Simon and ‘Lam Chau’ can continue to collaborate.”

Regarding Chan’s claim that he had mentioned Andy Li to Lai, the prosecution presented the transcript of the video interview where Chan stated, “When we need to find Mark or seek Lai’s assistance, I act as a messenger, conveying their requests to Mark.” 

Chan explained that Lai had mentioned the need for patience because Andy Li, who was responsible for the Japan line, said he couldn’t reach the people at the top. Chan then relayed Lai’s message to Li, saying Lai wanted to give it some time and suggested seeking Mark’s assistance. On the other hand, Lai emphasized the importance of IPAC and mentioned to Li that they should continue international lobbying efforts, so he should help out with IPAC.

Regarding Chan’s statement about discussing Andy Li’s stubbornness with Mark Simon after the National Security Law, the prosecution presented Signal messages between Chan and Li on August 10, 2020, where Chan said, “Brother, leave me here – we can’t afford one more lost in the international line,” and “Some businessmen and politicians are cutting ties with Jim.”

Chan confirmed that the police did not show or ask about these messages during the video interview. Regarding Chan’s admission under questioning that he didn’t mention discussing IPAC with Mark Simon during the initial statement, the prosecution asked why. Chan stated there was “no particular reason, just because I wasn’t directly involved in IPAC, so my impression at the time wasn’t very deep.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang pointed out that in Chan’s written statement, it was mentioned that Mark Simon would not affect the operation of the “Lam Chau Team” after Li’s arrest. What does the operation of the “Lam Chau Team” mean? Chan indicated that it referred to the international lobbying work of the “Lam Chau Team,” with Li leading the Japan line and being involved in IPAC and SWHK affairs, “So once Andy Li is arrested, not only IPAC may be affected, but also the overall operation of the Japan line and SWHK.”

Lee Wan-tang further asked, what does it mean that “Mark Simon will not affect the operation of the ‘Lam Chau Team'”? Chan stated that firstly, Mark Simon already had a “Plan B,” and secondly, he had to handle the U.S. line. Moreover, according to his understanding, Mark Simon had connections with IPAC, “So even after Andy Li’s arrest, despite the significant setback, Mark Simon and ‘Lam Chau’ can continue to collaborate and do other things,” meaning “Lam Chau” could give lectures to “overcome this difficulty.”

The defense raised concerns about Chan’s statement “according to his understanding,” indicating it was speculative. Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios pointed out that a witness’s speculation wouldn’t carry much weight.

14:34 Chan: “Lam Chau Team” has been acting in accordance with an understanding.

Democratic Party member “the Bull” (Tsang Kin-shing) attended the hearing, waved to Lai, and shouted “Stay strong, Lai,” to which Lai smiled and waved back.

Regarding Chan’s testimony in court, during the sixth meeting with Lai, he expressed concerns about the National Security Law, “I think we should retreat,” meaning “stop advocating for sanctions,” but agreed that this was not mentioned during the video interview. The prosecution asked why it wasn’t mentioned during the video interview. Chan stated there was “no particular reason.”

Regarding discussions with Lai about the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and SWHK, the prosecution presented the transcript of the video interview. Chan explained, “(Lai) told me ‘you should tell the people around you,’ which means passing on the message to the young people around him, encouraging them to continue speaking out, to continue making their voices heard. So, he mentioned that we should continue the lobbying work we talked about before, not to stop, and he has mentioned this before.”

Chan pointed out that the “Lam Chau Team” has consistently carried out international sanction work according to an understanding. He mentioned that at that time, SWHK had just joined IPAC, and IPAC was mainly handled by Andy Li’s side, “So at that time, what Lai said about telling the people around him would refer to SWHK and IPAC.”

Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked what Chan meant by “understanding.” Chan explained that after the Taiwan trip, Finn Lau and Andy Li “connected internationally,” and “the Lam Chau Team at that time was also under their leadership, pushing for sanctions. So, this kind of pattern started from the Taiwan trip and continued.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if when Chan mentioned the “Lam Chau Team,” he meant SWHK. Chan agreed.

12:44 Court recess for lunch.

12:20 Chan: Did not review communication records before taking statement.

The prosecution asked whether Chan had reviewed WhatsApp messages during the video interview or before making the statement to safeguard his rights. Chan stated he had not, saying, “I relied solely on memory at that time.” Regarding the phone used by Chan for communication with Lai, Chan mentioned it was not seized by the police, “That mobile phone has been disposed of… It seems there was a Signal message before. I only saw it for the first time when I came to court,” and he also pointed out that the police did not ask him to explain the messages.

12:05 The prosecution re-examines each question raised by the defense during cross-examination.

Addressing the defense’s fourteen points where Chan did not mention certain evidence in previous testimonies and video interviews, the prosecution proceeded to ask questions one by one. Referring to the transcript of the video interview on April 28, 2021, the prosecution asked Chan about a statement regarding Jimmy Lai, “He doesn’t care whether you promote Hong Kong independence or maintain the One Country, Two Systems. In short, he wants diversity, and he wants to maintain enthusiasm in the local Hong Kong community.” The prosecution inquired about what “enthusiasm” referred to. Chan stated it meant the enthusiasm for protest, continuing the stance on the five demands.

The prosecution questioned the connection between this testimony and the defense’s inquiry about “he hopes I understand that he doesn’t not support the use of force.” Chan explained that at that time, Jimmy Lai believed that the use of force was one of the reasons for maintaining enthusiasm in the protest.

Regarding the trip to Taipei, Chan agreed under questioning during the initial recording of his statement that he did not mention his and Finn Lau’s visit to Lai’s Yangmingshan villa and their meeting with Lai, during which Lau added that they had organized rallies and marches in Germany and Edinburgh. The prosecution asked why Chan didn’t mention this. Chan explained, “At the time of the recording, I only remembered the conversation between Jimmy Lai and ‘Lam Chau,’ so I didn’t remember those introductions, so I didn’t mention it at the time.”

Under further questioning, Chan also agreed that during the initial recording of his statement, he did not mention Lau’s response to Lai, expressing his personal willingness to cooperate and agreeing to the overall direction but indicating the need to consult with “rip” regarding the “Lam Chau team,” with Chan informing Lai that “rip” was Andy Li. The prosecution presented the transcript of the video interview on April 29, 2021, where Chan stated that Lau suggested an online meeting with Andy Li, “to inform or tell Andy Li exactly what happened… because Andy Li did not go, he did not go on the entire Taiwan trip… some directional things, or some things that Jimmy Lai really wanted Andy Li, Finn Lau, or even me to do.”

Chan explained in court that after meeting with Lai, Lau mentioned wanting to discuss with Andy Li, “So before leaving Yangmingshan, before leaving, Lau said he wanted to have another meeting with Andy Li, to talk about what Jimmy Lai said and what to do next.”

11:43 Chan reiterates the accuracy of his testimony after agreeing to become a prosecution witness. 

Chan Tsz-wah appeared in court. In response to the prosecution’s cross-examination on Friday, Chan admitted that the content of his initial recorded statement was false, stating, “At that time, I still had a sense of luck, thinking I could distance myself from Lai, Mark Simon, and others.” The prosecution asked why Chan wanted to distance himself from the aforementioned individuals. Chan replied, “Because at that time, I knew that everyone had committed offenses, and at that time, Andy Li had already been arrested. I believed there was a good chance they had already investigated my relationship with them.”

Chan explained that at that time, SWHK (Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong) continued to advocate for sanctions, “and I knew that Mark Simon, Finn Lau, and others were still involved, and I myself was also within the U.S. line. So I thought we had already violated the National Security Law.”

The prosecution presented Chan’s testimony from April 28, 2021, after he decided to become a prosecution witness. Chan stated, “It was my initiative to request the police to conduct this meeting. I hoped to truthfully explain the case.” Chan confirmed that the content of his initial recorded statement was false but emphasized that the content of his testimony after deciding to become a prosecution witness was not false. He agreed that his mindset had changed during this period, stating, “Because the initial statement I gave was not true, and later I wanted to tell the truth because I didn’t want to be blamed anymore,” “I didn’t want to be blamed by my conscience,” so he decided to become a prosecution witness from late March to early April 2021.

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if Chan had been accepted as a prosecution witness in April 2021. Chan said he probably hadn’t at that time but reiterated that he wanted to tell all the truths he remembered as much as possible.

11:06 The defense is concerned that the prosecution’s cross-examination has exceeded the scope of questioning.

The prosecution began its cross-examination last Friday (3rd) and presented the testimony of Chan Tsz-wah’s decision to become a prosecution witness after April 2021. Defense Senior Counsel Marc Corlett expressed concern that the cross-examination has gone beyond the scope of questioning mentioned. On Monday (6th), the defense cited an example, stating that under questioning, Chan agreed that during his video interview on October 10, 2020, when he was first arrested, he did not mention that Lai stated, “He isn’t unsupportive of the use of force,” and “I actually think we should retreat,” reiterating that the testimony in April 2021 was not within the scope of questioning.

Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked whether the defense objected to questions regarding Lai’s statement, “He isn’t unsupportive of the use of force,” and “I actually think we should retreat”? The defense indicated that the above was just an example, and they objected to all questions outside the scope of questioning. Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang argued that they only wanted to clarify with the witness and allow him to explain, and the judge ultimately approved the prosecution’s clarification with the witness.

11:05 Court session begins.

The Witness

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