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NEWSLETTER: Apple Daily CEO Denies Pressure to Testify

Top News - Jimmy Lai’s Trial Update

Yesterday and today (February 1st-February 2nd, 2024) the former CEO of Next Digital Limited, the media company that published pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, Cheung Kim-hung, has denied allegations of police coercion to testify against the firm's former owner Jimmy Lai.

This revelation came during Cheung's eleventh day of testimony, where he insisted that a police sergeant visiting him in detention for 6 hours did not influence his decision to act as a witness for the prosecution.

Cheung, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces, is a key witness in the trial. Senior counsel Robert Pang, representing Lai, questioned the circumstances surrounding Cheung's interactions with the police sergeant.

The sergeant visited Cheung for six hours, one week after the rejection of his bail application. The ex-publisher refuted Pang’s suggestion that the police persuaded him to testify against Lai in exchange for a lighter sentence, insisting that their conversations centered around routine topics such as his life in detention.

As the trial unfolds, concerns over the state of press freedom in Hong Kong intensify. Lai, detained since December 2020, faces charges of conspiring to collude with foreign forces and conspiring to publish "seditious" materials. The trial, expected to last 80 days, is being closely watched globally as a litmus test for the status of press freedom in Hong Kong.

Cheung and five other senior Apple Daily employees have pled guilty to conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces.

Last month the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation president and former Next Digital director Mark Clifford issued a statement regarding his former Apple Daily colleagues testifying against Lai in which he called for the immediate release of Lai and others held under the National Security Law.

He said he did not “feel anger but immense sorrow” at Cheung Kim-hung’s testimony, and lamented that “Kim-hung and five colleagues have been held as hostages almost three years since authorities forced Apple Daily to shut in mid-2021. They have pled guilty but remain behind bars, denied bail, so that they can be used as bit players in the ongoing show trial against Jimmy Lai.” 

Lai pleaded not guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces. The trial's prosecution have referred to him as a "radical political figure" and a "mastermind", accusing him of using his media businesses "as a platform to pursue his political agenda” and of orchestrating a conspiracy. 

Hong Kong

On Tuesday the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation launched a comprehensive report detailing the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) growing attempts to limit freedom of religion in Hong Kong. The report outlines the CCP’s efforts to influence religious groups, the strategic importance of religion for the party, the 'Sinicization' of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese whereby faith is subordinated to the CCP, and the politicization of religious organizations. It also highlights the party’s influence on religious education, suppression of information, legal prosecution, harassment, and the problematic role of the Vatican. The CFHK Foundation calls for urgent international action, recommending sanctions, advocacy, support for religious prisoners, and repeal of a controversial agreement between the Vatican and China.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, has expressed serious concerns about potential torture-derived evidence in the trial of pro-democracy newspaper owner Jimmy Lai. Lai's legal team had raised alarm over the treatment of a key witness, Andy Li. The UN Rapporteur emphasized the need for an immediate investigation before admitting any such evidence, citing the Convention against Torture. This comes after a Washington Post report revealed Li’s mistreatment while in Chinese custody. 

Hong Kong authorities have initiated a swift four-week public consultation for new national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law, sparking fears of escalating political repression. Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution requires laws against acts "endangering national security". The move comes after China imposed the vague and sweeping National Security Law in 2020. The proposed Article 23 law’s vague provisions and lack of detail regarding penalties means the proposed bill will likely leave Hong Kongers more vulnerable to CCP intimidation and could result in a ban on pro-democracy foreign entities in the city. 

US-China Relations

FBI Director Christopher Wray has issued a warning that Chinese government-backed cyber hackers are preparing to "wreak havoc" on the United States. The FBI chief, addressing the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, highlighted the targeting of critical infrastructure such as water treatment plants, the electrical grid, and transportation systems. He emphasized the ongoing cyber threats from China, urging increased attention to a threat that impacts "every American." 

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