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Day 74: May 10, 2024

The Witness: Live Update | Day 74 of the Jimmy Lai Trial: Royston Chow Tat-kuen Completes His Testimony

Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and three associated companies of Apple Daily are charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” among other offenses. The trial reached its 74th day on Friday (10th) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court). Witness for the prosecution, Royston Chow Tat-kuen, COO and former CFO of Next Digital, completed four days of testimony.

During the prosecution’s re-examination, he confirmed that he was arrested in August 2020 on charges of fraud and collusion with foreign forces, and his mobile phone was seized by the police. He later surrendered his mobile phone number and waived his protection under “Legal Professional Privilege” in 2022.

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 team includes 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 Queen’s Counsel with a Hong Kong practice license.

12:45 Wang Guiguo’s Report Analyzes Impact of Various Acts on Hong Kong

Regarding the legal effectiveness of sanctions, Wang Guiguo pointed out that the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” is part of the U.S. sanctions mechanism against Hong Kong and China. The State Department submits the “Hong Kong Policy Act Report” annually, which includes impacts on democracy and universal suffrage, judicial independence, rule of law, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, academic freedom, and U.S.-Hong Kong exchanges. The U.S. government will take corresponding sanction actions as per the law or executive orders.

Wang Guiguo cited the 2023 “Hong Kong Policy Act Report” stating that since the implementation of the National Security Law, the U.S. government has imposed economic sanctions on 42 Chinese and Hong Kong officials under an executive order, with 39 of them identified under the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” as being involved in actions or policies that threaten Hong Kong’s peace, security, stability, or autonomy. Those sanctioned and their immediate family members also face visa restrictions.

The report further mentions that on December 9, 2022, the eve of International Human Rights Day, the U.S. Treasury Department identified a Hong Kong Chinese citizen, Zhuo Xinrong, and his Hong Kong company, as being allegedly involved in serious human rights abuses. On September 29 of the same year, the U.S. Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on companies involved in Iranian oil trade, including several front companies based in Hong Kong.

Wang Guiguo believes that the impact of the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” should not be viewed in isolation but also in consideration of other U.S. measures, “Such effects are cumulative in nature and cannot be separated one from the other.”

He continued to explain that the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” specifically targets those responsible for extraordinary rendition, arbitrary detention, or torture in Hong Kong, or those committing serious human rights abuses there. However, Wang questioned the use of terms like ‘responsible,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘gross,’ which are highly subjective.

Furthermore, these provisions need to be interpreted in conjunction with other U.S. laws, inevitably leading to misunderstandings or even abuses. In such cases, it actually constitutes coercion, exacerbating the severe effects of the sanctions. When implementing the act, those sanctioned could face refusal of U.S. entry visas and property blocking.

The report also describes how the sanctions under the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” directly affect financial institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China, limiting their operations in Hong Kong, China, and globally, as U.S. dollars are the main settlement currency in international transactions.

The report specifically notes that the act requires the U.S. government to facilitate visa applications for certain individuals. If an applicant can demonstrate that they were arrested, detained, or subjected to other adverse governmental actions due to political factors, the act specifies that the U.S. government should not deny their visa application on this basis. Wang believes that while ordinary visa applications could be denied for criminal actions, the current proposal significantly modifies existing U.S. laws and visa application procedures.

12:10 Expert Report Details Various Legislative Acts

The report details the contents of various legislative acts, including the “Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act,” which aims to provide “temporary protective status” for Hong Kong residents facing political persecution. As for the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act,” in response to China’s failure to fulfill its commitments under the “Sino-British Joint Declaration” or the “Hong Kong Basic Law,” this act authorizes economic sanctions and travel bans against certain individuals, entities, and financial institutions related to Hong Kong.

11:17 Court Adjourns

11:05 Expert Report Continues Listing U.S. Sanctions and Other Measures

The report further mentions that in December 2020, in response to the National People’s Congress imposing the National Security Law and the disqualification of four pro-democracy members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against 14 vice-chairpersons of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. On January 15, 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against six individuals related to the arrest of pro-democracy primary election participants by the police. By March 16, the U.S. State Department announced additional financial sanctions measures. On July 7 of the same year, U.S. President Biden issued a notice on the continuation of the national emergency status related to Hong Kong, extending the national emergency regarding the situation in Hong Kong. On July 16, the U.S. issued a “Hong Kong Business Advisory” and announced sanctions against officials of Hong Kong’s Liaison Office on the same day.

Regarding the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act,” Wang Guiguo noted that the bill was first proposed on June 30, 2020, introduced in the U.S. Senate on January 25, 2021, and later submitted to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship on March 5 of the same year. As of November 17, 2022, the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act” has not yet become U.S. law.

The “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” was supported by both houses of Congress and then-President Trump on July 14, 2020, becoming binding U.S. law on the same day, implementing sanctions on individuals, entities, and financial institutions that undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy. The State Department is required to submit an annual report to Congress identifying any “foreign nationals who are significantly contributing, have contributed, or attempt to contribute to the failure of the Government of China to fulfill its obligations under the Joint Declaration or Basic Law.” Sanctions involving financial institutions include prohibiting these institutions from receiving loans from U.S. financial institutions.

11:00 Wang Guiguo’s Report Lists a Series of U.S. Actions Against Chinese and Hong Kong Officials

The report outlines a series of actions related to the case, including on June 30, 2020, when both houses of Congress introduced the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act”. On July 14, 2020, then U.S. President Trump signed the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” and issued an executive order under the “International Emergency Economic Powers Act” (IEEPA). On July 20, 2020, the Senate introduced the “Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act.” By August 7, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against 11 Chinese and Hong Kong officials, including then-Chief Executive Carrie Lam, then-Police Commissioner Chris Tang, and then-Director of the Liaison Office Luo Huining.

On August 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that from September, goods exported from Hong Kong to the U.S. must be labeled as originating from “China.” On August 19, the U.S. State Department announced the suspension or termination of bilateral agreements with Hong Kong, including the extradition of fugitives, the transfer of convicted persons, and the exemption from international shipping income tax. In October, the U.S. State Department submitted a report to Congress on the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act,” identifying certain Chinese and Hong Kong officials to be sanctioned. By November 9, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against four individuals, including the Deputy Commissioner of Police and Senior Superintendent of the National Security Department, Steve Li Kwai-wah.

10:54 Prosecution Reads Statement by Wang Guiguo

Senior Public Prosecutor Crystal Chan Wing-sum read out the statement of Wang Guiguo, taken by the police on May 6, 2024, which included expert reports written on November 17, 2022, and November 15, 2023. Wang Guiguo is the Dean of the Institute of International Strategy and Law at Zhejiang University, an expert member of the Supreme People’s Court International Commercial Expert Committee, and a professor of Chinese Law and Comparative Law at the City University of Hong Kong School of Law. He has published over 20 books and more than a hundred papers on topics including “Chinese Law” and “Competition Law.”

Wang Guiguo provided expert opinions on the actions, legal effectiveness, impact, and consequences of blockades or sanctions measures related to China and Hong Kong.

10:52 Prosecution Completes Re-examination of Royston Chow Tat-kuen

After completing the re-examination, Royston Chow Tat-kuen bowed slightly towards the direction of the judges as he left the courtroom. The prosecution announced that they would read the written testimony of expert witness Wang Guiguo, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong School of Law.

10:44 Mobile Phone Seized After Arrest, Chow Confirms Waiver of “Legal Professional Privilege”

The prosecution stated that Royston Chow Tat-kuen was arrested in August 2020 on charges of fraud and colluding with foreign or external forces to endanger national security, during which his mobile phone was seized by the police. He had previously claimed that he provided his mobile phone number to the police; Chow confirmed.

The prosecution asked if the seized mobile phone was subject to “Legal Professional Privilege (LPP)?” Chow agreed and later waived the protection of LPP during January to February 2022. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if it was before the Lunar New Year? Chow responded, “I’m sorry, Your Honor, because I was very confused during that period, I really can’t remember this,” and added that he recalls a lawyer sending a letter to the government to notify the waiver of LPP protection.

The prosecution asked if, after waiving LPP protection, the police had contacted him regarding the phone’s password. Chow said yes, “They said the password was incorrect, and they couldn’t open the phone,” but he told the police, “I use this password for both my mobile phone and iPad, I also don’t know why it couldn’t be opened,” after which the police did not contact him again. Judge Lee asked why the password could not be reset. Chow noted that he had not seen the phone since August 10, 2020.

10:20 Royston Chow Tat-kuen Undergoes Re-examination by the Prosecution

The defense stated that there were still two questions unaddressed, pointing out whether the “Lunchbox Meetings” that Royston Chow participated in ever discussed the “Summer of Freedom” special edition? Chow said he did not remember. The defense then asked if the “One Hongkonger, One Letter to Save Hong Kong” campaign was ever discussed in the “Lunchbox Meetings”? Chow replied, “I remember that was discussed.”

After the defense completed their questioning, Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang began the re-examination. The prosecution displayed the Slack “HK Apple Newspaper Ads” group, and Chow stated he did not know who created the group but believed he joined at its inception, estimating that the ’10’ displayed in the group’s image indicates there are 10 members in the group.

10:12 Judge Postpones Handling of Defense’s Request to Recall Cheung Kim-hung

In response to the defense’s request to recall prosecution witness Cheung Kim-hung, Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping noted that the defense was originally supposed to submit their arguments yesterday, but only did so this morning, leaving the prosecution no time to read them. The application will now be addressed next Monday (13th). Judge Toh expressed her dissatisfaction with the defense’s last-minute application. Senior Defense Barrister Robert Pang Yiu-hung assured that there would be no waste of court time.

It was revealed in court that the written testimony of expert witness Wang Guiguo, a professor at City University’s Law School, exceeds 70 pages, and it is anticipated that it will not be completed before lunch.

10:09 Court Session Begins

The Witness

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