Jimmy Lai – currently in jail – and his Apple Daily Hong Kong newsroom have been awarded WAN-Ifra’s Golden Pen of Freedom.
The award highlighting “the fears and challenges of journalists in Hong Kong, the region and the world in the face of heightening curbs on their ability to do their jobs credibly and independently” was made during a virtual session during the World News Media Congress.
Lai’s Apple Daily Hong Kong – which has a sister editions in Taiwan – published its final print edition on June 24, a week after authorities used 2020 national security laws to arrest editor-in-chief Ryan Law and four other senior executives, and freeze the company’s assets as well as those of founder, Jimmy Lai – who at that point had already been in jail for over seven months.
Lai had been arrested in August 2020 for “allegedly colluding with foreign forces” and the same morning, the newsroom was raided by more than 200 national security officers. He was released on bail, but by December 3, had been arrested again.
He remains in prison, facing six different charges that could lead to a life sentence.
An outspoken critic of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong and a high-profile supporter of the pro-democracy movement, Lai and his media company were regular targets for the authorities.
In 2013, a group of masked men ambushed his home, threatening workers and burning thousands of copies of Apple Daily. One year later, anti-corruption officials raided Jimmy Lai’s home over leaked documents that showed he had donated millions of dollars to pro-democracy groups ahead of the 2014 Occupy Movement protests.
After fleeing mainland China at age 12 and settling in Hong Kong, he worked his way from humble beginnings to lead a successful garment manufacturing empire. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he became an ardent critic of the Beijing government. He founded Next Media and, in 1995, launched Apple Daily, which soon became one of Hong Kong’s most popular newspapers.
It wasn’t long before Apple Daily became a symbol of pro-democracy and public dissent. Its anti-government position resulted in advertising boycotts, as well as cyber hacks and attacks.
In April 2021, Apple Daily published a letter that Jimmy Lai had sent to staff from his prison cell: “A journalist’s responsibility [is] to uphold justice,” he wrote. “The era is falling apart before us, and it is time for us to stand tall.”
Pictured: Lai and key staff are led away in 2020