[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.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116952″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Ten months after the arrest of Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and a massive raid at the group’s headquarters in August last year, the Hong Kong Police’s national security department launched a bigger strike against the Apple Daily, the group’s major publication, last Thursday (17 June).
They were alleged of colluding with foreign forces, one of the crimes under the national security law (NSL).
It marks the beginning of the end of the beleaguered newspaper founded by the controversial businessman in 1995. Hit by a government freeze on its bank accounts, the Next Digital’s board of directors said after an emergency meeting on Monday the newspaper will cease operation on Saturday unless the Government releases assets frozen.
Staff were allowed to leave immediately without giving prior notice. As this article went to press, its online operation was largely shut down.
The imminent demise of the media group, inaugurated with the launching of its flagship newspaper Apple Daily in 1995, will deal a body blow to the city’s press freedom.
More importantly, it signifies the deplorable failure of the Chinese Communist Party in honouring its promises to Hong Kong people and the world under the “one country, two systems” policy.
The troubled daily plunged into a deeper crisis after the Government launched the second, now fatal, strike on Thursday. Five top executives and editors were arrested. They were alleged of colluding with foreign forces by the publication of dozens of articles on their newspaper and online platform. Details of the articles have not been revealed.
On the same day, the Police’s national security department sent more than 500 officers to raid the newspaper’s headquarters. They took away more than 40 computers from the local news section.Security minister John Lee warned citizens and staff to “cut ties with these criminals,” referring to the newspaper.
The newspaper’s publisher, Cheung Kim-hung, and chief editor Ryan Law, were formally charged on Saturday. Their bail request was denied.
The other three executives were released on bail late Friday. Deputy publisher Chan Pui-man, who is one of them, has vowed to keep publishing.
Beginning in the early hours of Friday, readers snapped up copies of the newspaper to lend their support – and to say no to the authoritarian rule of the Government.
Half a million copies were sold like hot cakes. It was a scene reminiscent of the mass-buying in August following the arrest of Lai and the raid.
This “people power” will not be able to rescue the newspaper against the enormous power given to the national security organ under a law with almost zero checks and balances – even by the judiciary.
Invoking the NSL to take journalists to court for the first time, the case stoked fear of penalising journalists for “speech crime”, which is not uncommon in Communist-ruled China, but is rare in Hong Kong.
The confiscation of journalistic materials during the latest raid also set a damaging precedent. It will seriously shake public confidence in the protection of sources of information by reporters. Citizens will become more reluctant in talking to journalists, not to mention revealing sensitive information.
When the provisions of the NSL were announced about one year ago, journalists voiced their concerns about the profound ramifications on press freedom. That Lai and the Apple Daily have long been seen as a hostile force by the Government and Beijing is an open secret.
Ignited by an extradition bill in 2019, the prolonged months-long protest that was followed by foreign sanctions against top officials in the two governments has prompted the party leadership under Xi Jinping to harden their strategy towards dissenting voices in Hong Kong.
First came the NSL. Then a revamp of the election system. Democrats were arrested and prosecuted en masse. Dozens of them are either in jail after being convicted of other charges or are being held in custody.
On the media front, it is hardly surprising the government-run Radio Television Hong Kong and the Apple Daily have emerged as the immediate targets of a clampdown on press freedom.
The swiftness and ruthlessness of the use of harsh laws and powers have caught many by surprise.
Government officials have sought to allay fears among journalists by saying those who are engaged in “normal journalist work” have nothing to fear.
Speaking at a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, chief executive Carrie Lam rejected criticism that the move was a suppression of press freedom, but ducked the question “what is normal journalist work?”
“I think you are in a better position to answer that question,” she told reporters.
With the NSL taking effect nearly one year ago on 30 June 2020, Lam gave a clear message that they will not soften their approach in upholding national security, at least in the foreseeable future. “We won’t let this law be treated as if it doesn’t exist.”
With Apple Daily closing down, journalists have begun to ask “who’s next?”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Since the introduction of the National Security Law on 30th June basic human rights in Hong Kong have been under constant attack. Democracy movements have been forced to disband, Occupy leader Benny Tai was sacked from his position at Hong Kong University, news outlets have been raided by the police, peaceful protest has been all but banned and a new ‘approved’ media policy implemented. In the last week alone we have seen nine journalists arrested, including the founder of the Hong Kong news outlet Apple Daily Jimmy Lai, and a freelancer for ITV news Wilson Li.
This is a heartbreaking attack on a population which is proudly democratic and cherishes core human rights. Index was established to shine a light on repressive regimes and we will continue to highlight the abuses happening in Hong Kong by the Chinese government. We won’t be silent and we stand with the people of Hong Kong. We call on the British government to do the same; they need to intervene as a matter of urgency to protect the universal human rights that were enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong signed in 1984. Every action by the Chinese government in recent weeks has broken both the spirit and the letter of this agreement.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]