Ex-Apple Daily editorial writer penned op-eds aligned with Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai’s views, court hears

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Ex-Apple Daily editorial writer penned op-eds aligned with Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai’s views, court hears

A former Apple Daily editorial writer penned opinion pieces expressing pro-democracy views in line with those held by the newspaper’s founder, detained media mogul Jimmy Lai, a landmark national security trial has heard.

Apple Daily’s final edition dated June 24. 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

A panel of three designated national security judges heard on Wednesday that Yeung Ching-kee, who managed a commentary section in the paper, wrote op-eds expressing pro-democracy views consistent with those of his boss.

Lai, 76, in on trial after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiring to collude with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed security law. He also pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiring to publish “seditious” materials under the colonial-era sedition law. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Consistent stance

Yeung, who earlier pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and is testifying against Lai for the prosecution, told the court on Wednesday that all editorial writers followed the “basic stance” of the paper. “That is, we had to take note of Lai’s views and stance, so during the anti-[extradition] movement, there wasn’t a big difference between editorial writers’ stances,” Yeung said.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.
Jimmy Lai. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“We all supported the resistance and hoped the government would withdraw the fugitive bill. This was consistent with the views expressed by Lai in his own column calling for citizens to take to the streets,” he added.

He was referring to a proposed amendment to the city’s extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China, and which sparked large-scale protests in 2019.

See more: Hong Kong’s Apple Daily stopped pursuing balanced reporting after security law enactment, court hears

Editorial writers’ views on sanctions against Hong Kong politicians were also consistent with Lai’s own, and with public opinion at the time, Yeung told the court.

Presented with a line in an editorial he had written that read, “Hongkongers will not kneel, will not compromise; peaceful and valiant protesters will be as one; the Hong Kong international front will resist to the end,” Yeung said such views were shared by Lai.

Hong Kong China flag patriotic national security
Chinese national flags and HKSAR regional flags. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Prosecutor Ivan Cheung pointed to a line in the piece that read: “If the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong communists want mutually assured destruction, then bring it on.”

Asked to clarify what he meant, Yeung said: “I think my words are self-explanatory. I have no further comment.”

In another editorial published on May 26, 2020, just days after China’s top law-making body was given authorisation to enact the Hong Kong’s national security law, Yeung expressed views that the legislation would “destroy freedom and democracy” in Hong Kong.

That view was shared by Lai, as well as the paper itself, Yeung said.

Commentaries ‘definitely’ published

Yeung also told the court that commentary articles he received from Lai would “definitely” be published if there were no issues with them.

He told the court that the paper ran a piece titled “A brief talk about Xi Jinping’s ruling style,” which he had received from Lai.

Jimmy Lai being transferred onto a Correctional Services vehicle on February 1, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.
Jimmy Lai being transferred onto a Correctional Services vehicle on February 1, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

“No matter what, we should protest against and condemn [the Chinese Communist Party] with our conscience, justice, and rationality,” read the letter, originally written in Chinese.

Yeung said that he made alterations to the headline and the text before publishing the story, adding that Lai had not read the original commentary when he received it.

Prosecutor Ivan Cheung asked whether the piece was consistent with Lai’s views, to which defence counsel Robert Pang objected, repeating Yeung’s remark that Lai had not read the actual commentary.

Judge Esther Toh agreed with Pang, while Judge Alex Lee said that Cheung was asking for Yeung’s opinion, rather than a statement of fact.

Cheung presented another commentary, sent to the Apple Daily offices in Tseung Kwan O in the form of a letter, in which a “new reader” of the newspaper provided recommendations for the paper’s commentary section, including that it should introduce more pro-establishment views.

Legal representative of Jimmy Lai outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on February 2, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Legal representatives of Jimmy Lai outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on February 2, 2024. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The unnamed author wrote in the introduction: “Apple is no longer just a newspaper, it has become the symbol of seeking for democracy and freedom, protesting against power. I, just like many other Hongkongers, suddenly became a reader of Apple.”

Attached to a hard copy of the letter was a post-it note by Lai, telling Yeung that the reader’s opinions were “worth considering.”

Yeung told the court that Apple Daily also republished commentary articles from its Taiwan arm about the 2019 protests and unrest.

The articles had two “angles,” Yeung said: to support the resistance of the Hong Kong people and to call for international attention.

Lai’s trial began on December 18 last year, by which time he had already spent more than 1,000 days in custody. In a departure from the city’s common law traditions, three judges handpicked by Hong Kong’s leader to hear national security cases are presiding over Lai’s trial in the place of a jury.

Yeung is among six former senior Apple Daily executives who pleaded guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces, and the third to take the stand against their former boss.

Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers and led to hundreds of arrests amid new legal precedents, while dozens of civil society groups disappeared. The authorities say it restored stability and peace to the city, rejecting criticism from trade partners, the UN and NGOs.

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