The UK government is failing to acknowledge a British citizen unfairly imprisoned in Hong Kong amid a wider targeting of journalists and pro-democracy campaigners in the city state, said the authors of a new report on issues of freedom in Hong Kong.
On Monday, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong (APPG) met at Portcullis House, London, to discuss their new report, Inquiry into Media Freedom in Hong Kong: The case of Jimmy Lai and and Apple Daily, which offers a sobering look into the state of media freedoms in the once vibrant city. Index contributed to the report.
The session was headed by Baroness Bennett of Manor Caste, the joint chair of the APPG. Other speakers included Lai’s international lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Sebastian Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son.
One of the aims of the report is to provoke a response from the British government regarding Lai. A pro-democracy figure, media tycoon and British citizen, he is in a Hong Kong prison after sentencing for unauthorised assembly and fraud charges. In addition to these charges are more serious ones of violating Hong Kong’s national security law, which was passed in 2020. Six of his colleagues at Apple Daily, the newspaper founded by Lai, are also in jail charged under the national security laws.
Kennedy believes the case of Jimmy Lai should be treated as a political priority by the UK government not only because Lai is a British citizen, but also because of the the joint declaration that gives the UK a place in trying to guarantee the rights of people in Hong Kong.
She added: “It is the illegitimate use of law against a citizen by the government, and against the protection of media freedom and expression in Hong Kong.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool, a vice chair of the APPG, echoed Kennedy’s called for Magnitsky-style sanctions against allies of the Hong Kong authorities in the UK as further action is needed. “We have to go beyond sanctions, to freezing the assets and redeploying the resources of those who have been able to use London as a place for their activities,” he said.
Gallagher said the Hong Kong authorities have weaponised their laws to target pro-democracy campaigners and journalists in new ways. Gallagher, who represents Jimmy Lai, as well as Maria Ressa from the Philippines who was charged with tax evasion, says that this is a new tactic – trying to discredit them by painting them as bad people rather than using the more traditional tactic of defamation. “It’s straight from the dictators’ playbook,” she said.
Kennedy echoed this by stating fraud and tax affair charges are common tactics used against journalists in Hong Kong before more serious charges are later served. They added that as a result of supporting Lai they’ve received a series of threats and intimidation from state actors.
Sebastian Lai said he is also a target for the Chinese authorities. He acknowledged international support regarding his father’s cause but expressed disappointment in the UK government’s attitude. He said: “The language the UK government has used has been nowhere close to what America has used for not only a British citizen, but my father.”
However, he did acknowledge thanks for Anne Marie Trevelyan, MP and Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, for meeting him.
Fiona O’ Brien, the UK bureau director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said it needed to be waved in the face of those in power, “along with journalists writing stories, lawyers pursuing legal routes and advocates in society. We need to continue to shine a light.”
Jimmy Lai attends a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters/Alamy
The conviction of Jimmy Lai yesterday on the trumped-up charges of fraud serve a very specific purpose – discredit the 74-year-old Hong Kong media mogul and activist ahead of his National Security trial in December. So said Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, who is part of Lai’s international legal team at Doughty Street Chambers.
Gallagher was speaking on a panel held on Monday ahead of the trial to discuss Lai, who has been imprisoned in Hong Kong since 2020. The panel took place at the House of Lords and was chaired by veteran journalist John Simpson. The event was hosted by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC. Rebecca Vincent from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the last Governor General of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes, were also on the panel.
Simpson, describing Lai as a personal friend, introduced the event and acknowledged Lai’s personal wealth, pointing out it would have been easier for Lai to have used his money to escape rather than to “face the music”.
Reading a speech from Lai’s son, Simpson quoted Sebastian Lai when saying the CCP “had to corrupt the Hong Kong justice system, twisting it and bending it to fit their whims. So today, I call on the UK government to protect him and secure his freedom.”
This was a strong theme of the debate. While Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Bryant – two prominent MPs from different ends of the parliamentary political spectrum – were present, there was a general feeling that the British government had to do more to help a British citizen unfairly imprisoned abroad, and there had to be more awareness.
Despite acknowledging the help of the Foreign Office and Civil Service, Gallagher feels the previous and current Foreign Secretary ignored the plight of Lai. She said: “We haven’t met Liz Truss or James Cleverly, despite asking to. Whoever is the Foreign Secretary needs to engage with us and make this a political priority. People need to be shouting from the rooftops about this case.”
Patten stated his admiration for Lai, saying: “I hope we make a fuss about him and continue to do so”. He added: “Not only is he a formidable man, but of all the things that angers the CCP is not only that he chose to stay in Hong Kong when he could have left, but that he is also emblematic of what they find so difficult to accept.”
The continued imprisonment of Jimmy Lai and his Apple Daily colleagues will have strong implications for the residents of Hong Kong, Baroness Kennedy believes. She said: “I think, at the moment, a lot of people in Hong Kong believe that these issues won’t affect them, thinking “oh, they’re only going after Jimmy Lai”.” But as Kennedy pointed out, even speaking to people who have been charged under the draconian national security law (which was passed in the summer of 2020) can see people fall foul of the law. And indeed, her wider point was echoed throughout the talk, namely that no one wants to be the frog in the pot of boiling water, not acknowledging how serious the threat is.
Rebecca Vincent said that RSF were releasing a petition to shed light on Jimmy Lai’s situation, urging the Chinese government to drop all charges against him and release Lai, and his colleagues from Apple Daily, without delay.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”119624″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]On the east coast of the USA around 100 children have sent postcards to a man they do not know who is incarcerated over 8,000 miles away. The man is Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong media mogul and activist.
The postcards have provided a brief ray of light in an otherwise dark chapter for a man locked up for his political beliefs, and the city state of Hong Kong which is currently in the ever-tightening grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Lai is imprisoned on charges most us will, hopefully, never have to face. The billionaire publisher and founder of Apple Daily has been jailed since December 2020 after he lit a candle during a public commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The charges were related to this and his other pro-democracy protests. He is perhaps the most high-profile victim of the National Security Law, which was passed in the summer of 2020 with the precise aim of punishing and stifling dissent. This month he faces a trial without jury, where he will plead not guilty to the national security charges.
“My children are in a Catholic school and are Catholic, and I was thinking about how Catholics believe in the idea called corporal works of mercy, and they are these physical acts we do for people that import a lot of grace and mercy, and one of those is visiting the imprisoned,” she said.
She explained how Lai being persecuted for his ideas and belief – not only political but also regarding his faith – inspired her to contact her children’s school.
“This is a great example for these kids of somebody who stood up for their faith and is suffering unjust consequences for that. I thought they could write postcards to Jimmy and tell him they know a little bit of his story, and they’re praying for him and admire him.”
Lai is currently held at Stanley Prison, a maximum-security facility in Hong Kong where he has spent time in solitary confinement. Already a believer, he has found strength through his faith. A drawing of Jesus Christ on the cross done by Lai from prison was printed on the postcards the children sent.
This drawing was originally published in Index on Censorship’s spring 2022 magazine, alongside letters of his, many of which reference his faith.
Ponnuru said: “We thought it would be nice to include some religious art by Jimmy, and it would be a really meaningful thing that this art he sent out in the world would come back to him from a lot of children. For the children it was a great way to participate in corporal works of mercy that they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to do so. By sending him a card and message, they are visiting him.”
Jimmy Lai’s drawing of Jesus Christ.
She is eager to point out that she wants any child to have the opportunity to send a postcard, as the message of the project should not be defined just by Catholicism.
“This isn’t limited to Catholic schools. We would love any child to participate, children of all faiths and no faith. It’s about understanding the injustice of what is happening to Jimmy and others in Hong Kong. This pilot programme is just the beginning, and we would be very happy to create a postcard that would be appropriate for students at public and other schools to send as well,” Ponnuru said.
“Overall, a number of people have said to me they would love to bring it to their school, and priests have told me they are interested in copying the programme. We are going to write to other schools to encourage them to join the project.”
It’s understood the postcards were received in prison within three months of being sent, and that Lai is being allowed to read one daily, enabling him to have regular contact with the outside world.
If you would like more information about the project, and to request postcards for Jimmy Lai, please contact [email protected].[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Jimmy Lai Chi-Ying, Hong Kong’s 74-year-old self-made billionaire, is a dissident. His cause is freedom. For championing this cause, he has been jailed since December 2020. One of the crimes he was found guilty of was lighting a candle in public to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when thousands were slaughtered. His real sin, however, was publishing Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s lone voice for freedom. This voice was smothered in June 2021 with the jailing of its senior journalists.
Lai could have remained free – he has homes in Paris, London, Kyoto and Taipei – but chose to stay in solidarity with the Hong Kong democrats being prosecuted. The UK abandoned Hong Kong in 1997 on China’s promise that its seven million-plus people would have “a high degree of autonomy” with “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”.
However, the democrats’ demand for China to honour this pledge was rebuffed from the start and dealt a final blow in 2020 when Beijing imposed direct rule by promulgating a vague and sweeping National Security Law along with an electoral system modelled on Iran’s that allows only handpicked candidates. Virtually all democrat leaders have since been jailed.
Lai was born in Guangzhou. He escaped communist rule at the age of 12 by stealing his way into Hong Kong, hidden in the bottom of a small fishing boat. By the time he was in his 20s, he had risen from a child labourer to owning his own business.
He started Giordano, an international clothing retailer. Along the way he learned English – initially by reading the dictionary while living in the factory where he worked – and took to the brand of free-market economics espoused by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. He credited his success to the freedom he enjoyed in British Hong Kong. He vows to fight for this freedom so others may have the same opportunities.
Like most Hong Kong people, Lai’s political awakening came in the spring of 1989 when a democratic movement led by students erupted in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He was sympathetic to their aspirations and lent them support by raising money through his Giordano stores.
After communist tanks mowed down demonstrators on 4 June 1989, he dedicated himself to upholding their torch of democracy by going into publishing in Hong Kong, where the press remained free.
He first launched Next, a weekly magazine, in 1990, and then Apple Daily on the eve of Hong Kong’s transition to Chinese rule. With their bold and fiercely independent editorial stance, both publications enjoyed wide readership and were successfully “cloned” in Taiwan. As the communists tightened their grip on Hong Kong, Lai was first forced to sell his controlling interest in Giordano and then his publications were subjected to orchestrated advertising boycotts. Though financial losses piled up, Lai did not waver. Readers’ loyalty remained to the end: when Apple Daily printed its last edition of one million copies on 24 June 2021, thousands of people waited in the middle of the night for it to roll off the press.
Lai is now represented by the London-based lawyer Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC. She has called Lai “a man of courage and integrity” and vowed to “pursue all available legal remedies to vindicate Mr. Lai’s rights”.
Lai’s wife Teresa is a devout Catholic. He himself converted to Catholicism when Hong Kong came under Chinese rule. China’s communists, often godless, are known to be ruthless, but in this couple they may have met their match. Because of his faith, Lai does not seek temporal salvation. He quoted the 15th-century German priest Thomas a Kempis in a letter to a friend from prison: “If thou willingly bear the Cross, it will bear thee, and will bring thee to the end which thou seekest, even where there shall be the end of suffering; though it shall not be here.”[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]*****
‘I don’t want my life to be a lie’ – letters from Lai’s prison cell
Jimmy Lai has been in jail since December 2020. He has told friends and associates from his cell that he does not want to turn his “life into a lie” and willingly pays the price for upholding “truth, justice, and goodness”. He said he bears this price gladly and sees it as God’s grace in disguise. Here are excerpts from some of his prison letters.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]‘The muted anger of the Hong Kong people is not going away’
Apple Daily published its last edition of one million copies on 24 June 2021. This was how he reacted to it from prison. While deploring what he called “this barbaric suppression”, he was weighed down with guilt that his staff were incarcerated on his account and wished he could share “the pain of the cross” they bear. He vowed to find a spiritual way to help them.
The forced closure of Apple Daily Hong Kong showed clearly what [a] shipwreck life in Hong Kong has become for them. The damage done [by] the Hong Kong government and Beijing’s legitimacy long term is much greater [than] the temporary benefit of quieting down the voice of freedom of speech.
Yes, this barbaric suppression intimidation works. Hong Kong people are all quieted down. But the muted anger they have is not going away. Even those emigrating will have it forever. Many people are emigrating or planning to.
This Apple Daily shutdown only aggravates it, making it certain to people that the hopelessness of Hong Kong is irreversible. The more barbaric [the] treatment of Hong Kong people, [the] greater is their anger, and power of their potential resistance; [the] greater is the distrust of Beijing, of Hong Kong, [the] stricter is their rule to control.
The vicious circle of suppression-anger-and-distrust eventually will turn Hong Kong into a prison, a cage, like Xinjiang. World, cry for Hong Kong people.
Pastor Lee came to visit… Told me he had visited Cheung Kim Hung, our CEO, and Lo Wai Kong, our Chief Editor. They are both being remanded. Cheung, being a devout Christian, is doing fine. But Lo, who has no faith, is miserable.
What I can do to help him? Send him a Bible? But Bible is no faith, not panacea. Maybe I should ask Cardinal Zen to visit him to see what we can do for him.
It would be disingenuous to say that by creating Apple Daily I have put him in this situation. But I do have a guilty feeling and want to share his price of his cross, which is weighing too heavily on him. There must be something I can do to help. I will not cease until I find a way.
“If we suffer courageously, quietly, unselfishly, peacefully, the things [that] wreck our outer being perfect us within, and make us. And as [we] have seen, more truly ourselves.”
‘There is always a price to pay when you put truth, justice and goodness ahead of your own wellbeing’
Lai wrote in July 2021 to console his hotel staff in Canada for their suffering during the pandemic and held out the hope that soon he could share “the coming prosperity” with them. He also updated them on his life in prison, telling them not to worry about him, though when they “pass by a church, do go in and pray for me”.
If you are worry[ing] about me, please don’t. I am keeping myself busy reading the scriptures, gospels, theology and books of the saints and their lives… Life is peaceful and edifying… There is always a price to pay when you put truth, justice, and goodness ahead of your own comfort, safety and physical wellbeing, or your life becomes a lie. I choose truth instead of a lie and pay the price. Luckily God has made this price a grace in disguise. I am so grateful.
So, don’t worry about me. However, when you pass by a church, do go in [and] pray for me. Believers and non-believers, the sun shines on you the same. So the Lord will listen to you the same. Thank you! Hope to see you soon,
‘I am changed… I can’t see myself going back to business again’
Lai wrote to a friend, James, in September 2021, saying that, by clinging to Christ, his life in prison “is full” and spiritually “at peace”. However, he was worried about his wife, Teresa, whom he said was weighed down by grief.
I am doing fine, keeping myself busy, studying gospels, scriptures, theology and books on the saints and lives and prayers, touching the fringe of Christ’s cloak to live, so to speak. Life is full and at peace. I am learning and changed a lot. Can’t see myself going back to business again. All have to depend on others.
I do worry about my wife Teresa. She has lost a lot of weight under the grief of my situation. Lucky she has God [to] abide [with] her. May God bless you all.
‘But with her prayers, she will slug it through’
In October 2021, Lai wrote to a business associate about his happiness when his family visited him. He urged him to “keep writing”.
I am doing fine here. Happy to see Teresa, Claire, Tim and Ian and my brother… Teresa looks weak and weighed down by grief. But with her prayers, she will slug it through.
I am keeping myself busy here. Spiritual study, drawing and trying to improve my English writing skill. Take care!
So sweet of you to write me. Please keep writing. May God be with you all! Cheers, Uncle Jimmy
‘If thou willingly bear the Cross, it will bring thee [that] which thou seekest… ’
In a November 2021 letter to a friend, Lai copied the following quote from the 15th-century German priest Thomas a Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ.
“If thou willingly bear the Cross, it will bear thee, and will bring thee to the end which thou seekest, even where there shall be the end of suffering; though it shall not be here.
“If thou bear it unwillingly, thou makest a burden for thyself and greatly increaseth thy load, and yet thou must bear it.”
‘Lord, remember those who shed their blood in Tiananmen Square’
Lai was sentenced 13 months in jail for attending the vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, on 4 June 2020 that marked the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. He protested his innocence by reading the following statement in court before he was sentenced. He appealed to God to grant the young men and women who died in Tiananmen their redemption.
I did not join the 4 June vigil in Victoria Park. I lit a candle light in front of reporters to remind the world to commemorate and remember those brave young men and women who 31 years ago in Tiananmen Square put the truth, justice and goodness above their lives and died for them.
If [to] commemorate those who died because of injustice is a crime, then inflict on me that crime and let me suffer the punishment of the crime, so that I may share the burden and glory of those men and women who shed their blood on June 4th to proclaim truth, injustice and goodness.
Lord, remember those who shed their blood, but do not remember their cruelty. Remember the fruits those young men and women have borne because what they did and grant, Lord, that the fruits these young men and women have borne may be their redemption. May the power of love of the meek prevail over the power of destruction of the strong.
This article and Lai’s letters appeared in the 50th anniversary issue of Index on Censorship magazine, alongside a picture that Lai drew of Jesus Christ on the cross. They were published on 15th March 2022. Click here for options on how to see and read the article in full.