Jailed Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, who faces charges alongside several senior editors at the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper under a draconian national security law, has won a press freedom award alongside his colleagues at the paper.
Lai’s son Sebastien received the Golden Pen of Freedom award from the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) on his father’s behalf, the organization said in a report on its website.
“Journalism is at the forefront of history,” Sebastien Lai said. “It is a check against the powerful, and the voice of the people in times of strife.”
“With Apple Daily closing in Hong Kong, and a crackdown against journalism across the region, there will be less and less people shining light in these dark corners,” he said.
World Editors Forum president Warren Fernandez said the award was made to recognize “the jailing of a publisher, the arrest of an editor-in-chief and his senior colleagues, the shuttering of a newsroom, and the closure of a media title.”
National security police raided and effectively shut down the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and founder Jimmy Lai’s Next Digital media empire in June 2021, freezing the company’s assets and arresting several senior editors, who are charged, like Lai, with “collusion with a foreign power” under the national security law.
Lai, who will turn 74 on Dec. 8, has been behind bars for a year, and faces a potential life sentence. He is also serving a 20-month jail term for “illegal assembly” after he attended a peaceful protest.
More than 1,000 people have been prosecuted and thousands more arrested, mostly for charges linked to “rioting” and “illegal assembly” under the Public Order Ordinance.
But the imposition of the national security law from July 1, 2020 launched an ever-widening crackdown on public dissent and political opposition that has seen dozens of former opposition lawmakers and democracy activists detained for “subversion” for taking part in a democratic primary in 2020.
The mass public protests — which Beijing claims were incited by hostile foreign powers fomenting a “color revolution” in Hong Kong — and the increasingly violent responses by protesters to widespread and excessive police violence, were cited as the main reason for the new regime.
“The detention and harassment of Jimmy Lai, who did nothing but exercise his right to impart and comment on factual information, demonstrates the determination of the Hong Kong government to silence a symbolic figure of press freedom,” Cédric Alviani, East Asia bureau chief for Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a Dec. 2 statement.
He called on the international community to put pressure on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to secure the release of Lai and “all detained journalists and press freedom defenders.”
RSF said it had submitted two urgent appeals calling on the United Nations to “take all measures necessary” to safeguard press freedom in Hong Kong and to obtain Lai’s immediate release.
It said Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, had fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People’s Republic of China, for its part, had remained at 177th out of 180 for some time.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.