Jimmy Lai national security trial hears Hong Kong tycoon recruited prominent political figures to drum up support for Apple Daily newspaper

Hong Kong prosecutors have accused the now-closed Apple Daily newspaper of using well-known political figures to promote its subscription service and highlighted the role of veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming, who appealed to readers to support the tabloid and its founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying “until the end”.
Lee drummed up support for Apple Daily in a passage submitted to West Kowloon Court on Monday by publicising what he saw as attacks by the Chinese Communist Party and former city leader Leung Chun-ying, who had put pressure on companies that advertised with the opposition-leaning newspaper.

“So everyone knows that this authoritarian country, that is the Communist Party, now doesn’t want a free press because [the press] is to them just a national apparatus,” Lee said in a May 2020 video.

The 85-year-old founder of the Democratic Party praised Lai for his dedication to safeguarding the “independent” newspaper, even though Apple Daily had been running at a loss for years.

Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, who appealed to the public in Apple Daily to support the tabloid and its tycoon owner Jimmy Lai. Photo: Edward Wong

“So you have no reason not to support him, that is, in such a difficult time, there is still one foolish guy spending so much money to continue to do this at a loss, for what? It is not for himself, is it?” Lee wrote.

“If we do not support him until the end, then we have to think about what our lives will be like without Apple.”

The article was in the spotlight on the 28th day of Lai’s trial on national security charges as prosecutors continued with evidence from former Apple Daily associate publisher Chan Pui-man, a defendant turned prosecution witness.

Lai, 76, faces two conspiracy charges of collusion with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed national security law, as well as a third alleged offence of conspiracy to print and distribute seditious publications, brought under colonial-era legislation.

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Chan said Apple Daily had used public figures to boost subscription rates, but said she was not involved and knew little about the details.

Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, for the prosecution, highlighted Lai’s contribution to what was said to be an advertisement on Apple Daily’s front page on May 4, 2020, which marked the 110th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, a cultural and anti-imperialist political organisation in mainland China.

He said the tycoon was involved in an illustration published in the paper, which showed a large red star crushing two people, one old and one young, with a handwritten statement that said “should the rule of law and freedom be torn down, I shall have nothing”.

Chan confirmed the statement came from Lai, but told the court she was unsure whether her former boss had designed the drawing as well.

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She was asked why the tycoon’s own work would appear in an advert.

“It could be the case that Mr Lai himself included his own stuff in the advertisement,” she said. “That was his stance all along.”

The court also heard the newspaper tried to recruit Simon Lau Sai-leung, a former government adviser who supported the 2019 anti-government protests, as a columnist in May 2020.

The move came after Lee Yee, a prominent writer for the newspaper, decided to reduce the number of his contributions because of poor health.

The witness said Lai had singled out Lau as a potential candidate to fill the gap because he was a supporter of the pan-democrats.

The trial continues.


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