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Jimmy Lai (黎智英)

Founder and Ex-Chairman of Next Digital, the publisher of newspaper Apple Daily

Date of Birth:

December 8, 1948




Apple Daily; Christian; Journalist; Entrepreneur

Behind Bars Since

Since December 31, 2020


Jimmy Lai was born in 1947 in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, to a wealthy family that lost everything when the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949. He fled his village in mainland China at the age of 12, arriving in Hong Kong as a stowaway on a fishing boat. [1] After starting as a child laborer in a garment factory, he rose to manager, eventually purchasing a bankrupt company and launching the clothing retail chain Giordano, where he made his fortune. [2]

After the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he became an advocate of democracy and critic of the Chinese government. He founded Next Digital (formerly Next Media) and launched Next magazine. Following a critical column in the magazine in 1994, where Lai insulted then-Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng, China began to force branches of Giordano on the mainland to close, after which Lai sold his share of the company. He launched Apple Daily in 1995, introducing tabloid-style journalism to Hong Kong and later Taiwan, and has openly supported pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Despite Apple Daily’s popularity, many large businesses have shunned the paper in what Lai has described as a politically motivated squeeze. Apple Daily offices and Lai’s home have been repeatedly attacked, including with firebombs. [3]

In July 2019, during widespread street protests in Hong Kong, he met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a visit to Washington, D.C. [4]

On Aug. 10, 2020, Jimmy Lai and several Apple Daily Staff members were arrested under the new National Security Law. Police raided the Apple Daily headquarters. After two days in detention, Jimmy Lai was released on bail. On Dec. 31, 2020, Hong Kong’s highest court revoked Jimmy Lai’s bail and returned him to prison, where he remains to this day.

On June 24, 2021, Apple Daily closed; unable to continue operating due to frozen assets and the arrests of its senior staff, Apple Daily prints its last issue, marking the end of Hong Kong’s only pro-democracy Chinese language newspaper.

On Dec. 10, 2022, Jimmy Lai was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison for fraud due to an alleged lease violation related to Apple Daily’s office space. The U.S. State Department and other entities have criticized these charges as spurious.

While imprisoned, Lai also faced multiple convictions for taking part in public assemblies, such as organizing public processions and lighting candles at a Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, and was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

On December 18, 2023, Jimmy Lai’s trial under the National Security Law started, where he pled not guilty to the charges related to "collusion with foreign forces."

In June 2021, Lai received the 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and in December that year, together with the staff of shuttered Apple Daily, the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Photo: Hong Kong Free Press

Jimmy Lai (黎智英)


Colluding with foreign forces under the national security law

  • Aug. 10, 2020: Arrested along with six other senior executives and editors of Next Digital.

  • Aug. 11, 2020: Released on bail at HK$300,000 with a surety of HK$200,000.

  • Dec. 11, 2020: Officially charged.

  • Aug. 22, 2022: Pled not guilty to charges; Trial concluded, Awaiting sentencing.

Fraud over a lease violation

  • Aug. 10, 2020: Arrested.

  • Aug. 11, 2020: Released on bail at HK$300,000 with a surety of HK$200,000.

  • Dec. 2, 2020: Arrested again.

  • Dec. 23, 2020: Grated bail at HK$10 million deposit and other deposits by three guarantors.

  • Dec. 31, 2020: Ordered back to jail and denied bail.

  • Dec. 10, 2022: Sentenced to five years and nine months and fined two million Hong Kong dollars.

Organizing and participating in unauthorized assemblies in 2019 and the 2020 Tiananmen Vigil

  • April 18, 2020: Arrested along with 14 high-profile democracy figures.

  • April–December 2021: Convicted and sentenced to a total of 20 months in prison.

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