Court hears testimony on Jimmy Lai’s launch of Apple Daily’s English edition to seek international support

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Jimmy Lai (left) and Chan Pui-man (right).

20th February 2024 – (Hong Kong)  Pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai introduced an English version of his tabloid Apple Daily to attract international backing against any potential government “suppression,” the court heard Tuesday in his trial under the national security law.

Lai faces collusion charges along with three companies under his Next Digital media group for allegedly conspiring with foreign forces to endanger national security. His trial resumed this week after a two-month hiatus, with former Apple Daily executive Chan Pui-man testifying as a prosecution witness.

Chan, who pleaded guilty last November to national security charges, told the court that Lai believed publishing English content would bring Apple Daily global attention and possible protection. She said Lai thought pressure from the “international community,” including U.S. politicians, could restrain Hong Kong authorities from targeting the paper.

According to Chan, Lai said that if prominent American leaders subscribed to Apple Daily, it would confer “respectability” and arouse support if the company faced suppression. She also testified that Lai asked his assistant Mark Simon, who had media connections abroad, to promote the English edition internationally.

Prosecutors presented May 2020 text messages showing Lai embraced proposals to launch the English website to participate in the “international publicity front” and break rival South China Morning Post’s dominance in local English news. Lai stated Apple Daily should focus on representing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy “yellow side,” unlike SCMP’s more neutral stance.

Chan confirmed Apple Daily aimed to draw global attention to the 2019-20 protests by covering demonstrators sympathetically. She said Lai, aligned with protester demands, directed the paper to highlight police abuses and rights issues rather than apolitical stories.

Lai thought Apple Daily’s distinct pro-democracy voice would attract English readers once distinguished from SCMP, Chan testified. She agreed the purpose of the English edition was to seek international scrutiny and potential support against suppression. The court earlier heard testimony that Lai met with U.S. officials including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rally support for Hong Kong protesters. Lai allegedly called for sanctions after Beijing imposed the national security law in 2020.

Lai’s lawyers have argued the meetings were legitimate exchanges, not unlawful collusion but Chan’s testimony further details Lai’s overseas outreach via Apple Daily amid fears of an authoritarian crackdown.

The English edition was one channel Lai utilised to court foreign backing, believing Western pressure could restrain Hong Kong and mainland authorities against local critics like Apple Daily. But as suppression did intensify, Lai remains detained while his paper shut down. The prosecution continues painting Lai as violating the national security law’s prohibitions on foreign collusion, for which he may face years in prison if convicted.