Jimmy Lai, 73, founder of Next Digital press group and its flagship newspaper Apple Daily and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Awards laureate, was sentenced on 16th April to a total of one year and two months in prison for “organising” and “taking part” in two “unauthorised” pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on 18th and 31st of August 2019.
“One year and two months in prison for taking part in two peaceful protests is an utterly disproportionate punishment that reveals how desperate the government is to silence Jimmy Lai, a symbol of press freedom in Hong Kong”, says Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau, who calls for Lai’s “immediate release alongside the dropping of all his charges, including the ones for which he faces a life sentence.”
This court verdict is part of a long-lasting judicial harassment campaign against Lai, who has been detained since December 2020. Lai faces six other procedures ranging from “fraud”, and “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” to “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces”, for which he risks up to a life sentence under the infamous National Security Law adopted last year by the Chinese regime.
On 12th April, Jimmy Lai, in a letter penned in his jail cell, called on the Apple Daily staff to “stand tall”: “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in the 2020 RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People’s Republic of China, for its part, has stagnated at 177th out of 180.
Image Credit: Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP