#FreeJimmyLai: RSF launches petition in support of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily founder, who faces a life sentence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launches a petition calling on the Hong Kong authorities for the urgent release of Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct media outlet Apple Daily and a 2020 laureate of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize, and six of his collaborators, who are accused of national security-related crimes and face a life sentence.
“Jimmy Lai, the founder of independent media outlet Apple Daily, has been a very vocal defender of press freedom over the past decades despite the Hong Kong government and the Chinese regime”s incessant political persecution”, said the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau Head Cedric Alviani, who urged the international community to “increase the pressure to secure Lai’s release, alongside his collaborators and all other press freedom defenders detained in Hong Kong and in the Mainland.”
Lai, aged 74, who has been detained since December 2020, faces a life sentence for “collusion with foreign forces” under the National Security Law, adopted by the Chinese regime to suppress dissent in Hong Kong. He has already been sentenced to a total of 20 months in prison for attending four “unauthorised'' pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020. In addition to Lai, six former Apple Daily staff members are also detained and face life imprisonment under similar charges.
While Lai has been detained in a maximum security jail and has repeatedly been refused bail over the past two years, his defence of press freedom remains unshaken. "Hong Kong's situation is increasingly chilling, but precisely because of that, we need to love and cherish ourselves more," Lai wrote from jail in April 2021, two months before Apple Daily was forced to shut down, calling on journalists to “stand tall and keep [their] heads high.”
“My dad’s only ‘crime’ is to campaign for democracy in the face of tyranny, but for that he has already spent over two years in prison and faces the rest of his life behind bars. The authorities in Hong Kong and China are using my dad’s case to send a chilling message to all independent voices in the media and civil society: keep quiet or you’ll be next.” said Lai’s son, Sebastian Lai, and added “I thank RSF for speaking out and fighting back. We need to shine a light on what is happening to my dad and all other targeted Hong Kongers.”
“Our client, Jimmy Lai, faces the rest of his life behind bars for speaking truth to power. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee, has now announced a new multi-billion dollar investment fund and raft of policy measures to attract overseas businesses and international talent back to Hong Kong. But whilst Jimmy Lai remains in prison and the National Security Law remains on the statute books, the world can see Hong Kong does not respect democratic values and is not a safe place to do business.” said Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a member of Lai’s international lawyers team.
In the past two years alone, the Chinese regime used the enactment of a National Security Law as a pretext to prosecute at least 23 press freedom defenders in Hong Kong and shut down major independent media outlets Apple Daily and Stand News, while the climate of fear confronting Hong Kong journalists led to at least five smaller media outlets to cease their operations.
In a report titled The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, published last year, RSF revealed the system of censorship and information control established by the Chinese regime and the global threat it poses to press freedom and democracy.
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has plummeted from 80th place in 2021 to 148th place in the 2022 RSF World Press Freedom Index, marking the index’s sharpest drop of the year. China itself ranks 175th of the 180 countries and territories evaluated.