'Freedom of speech is a dangerous job': Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai writes to staff ahead of sentencing

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Jasmine Leung
·2 min read
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Jimmy Lai arrives at court in December - Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg
Jimmy Lai arrives at court in December - Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has told his staff in a letter from jail that “freedom of speech is a dangerous job” and to “stand tall” just days before he is sentenced in two cases against him.

It comes as fellow democracy activist Joshua Wong received a second jail sentence under the territory’s strict new national security law.

Mr Lai, the 72-year-old founder of Apply Daily, is in custody after prosecutors appealed successfully against a court decision to grant him bail on national security charges.

Apple Daily published his hand-written letter on Tuesday in which Mr Lai wrote “the era is falling apart before us, and it’s time for us to stand tall”.

“Working from the news field, it’s our responsibility to uphold justice,” Mr Lai said. “We have to be extra careful and not take risks for the sake of our safety.”

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily is detained by the national security unit in Hong Kong - REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily is detained by the national security unit in Hong Kong - REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Last August, police officers stormed Apple Daily’s offices and arrested Mr Lai. It marked a major escalation in the Government’s efforts to clamp down on journalism and enforce the territory’s draconian new national security law.

In March, the head of the public broadcaster, RTHK, was replaced and his successor, Patrick Li, has repeatedly withdrawn programmes deemed to be “biased and inaccurate”.

Separately, Joshua Wong, the pro-democracy activist, was sentenced to a further four months in prison for unauthorized assembly and violating an anti-mask law during mass protests in October 2019.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong poses with the nomination papers as he files for his candidacy in the Legislative Council elections in September - AP Photo/Vincent Yu
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong poses with the nomination papers as he files for his candidacy in the Legislative Council elections in September - AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Mr Wong, who pleaded guilty to both charges, is already serving a 13-and-a-half-month sentence for organising an illegal assembly.

Mr Wong was also among 47 democrats charged with conspiracy to commit subversion in late February for running in an unofficial primary election in July last year, the largest single crackdown on the opposition since the new security law was implemented.

Mr Lai, who has described himself as “Beijing’s number one enemy”, stands accused of conspiring with “foreign forces” as well as fraud and protest-related charges. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. He has already been convicted on one unauthorised protest charge and pleaded guilty to another. He will be sentenced in both cases on Friday.