Hong Kong: detained press freedom symbol Jimmy Lai gets an additional 5 years and 9 months for alleged fraud
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges for the release of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, a symbolic figure of press freedom in Hong Kong, who received today an additional 5 years and 9 months for “fraud” and still risks a life sentence for alleged national security crimes.
“Illegal demonstration, fraud, national security crimes—the diversity of the charges held against Jimmy Lai, and the staggering severity of the sentences imposed on him, show how desperate the Chinese regime is to silence this symbolic figure of press freedom in Hong Kong,” says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau Head, who urges the international community to increase pressure the Beijing regime and the Hong Kong government to “secure Lai’s release alongside all other journalists and press freedom defenders detained in Hong Kong and in the Mainland.”
On 10 December 2022, Jimmy Lai, the founder of now-defunct pro-democracy media outlet Apple Daily and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate, was sentenced by the Hong Kong District Court to a total of 5 years and 9 months for two counts of “fraud”. Lai allegedly violated the terms of the lease for the headquarters of Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital by subleasing 0.16% of its area to his family’s company. Concurrently, the Chief Administrative Officer of Next Digital, Wong Wai-keung, 61, was sentenced to 21 months on a similar charge.
Lai, 75, who has been detained in a maximum security jail since December 2020, was previously sentenced to 20 months in prison for attending four “unauthorised'' pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020 and still faces a life in prison for “collusion with foreign forces” under the National Security Law adopted by the Chinese regime to suppress dissent in Hong Kong.
In addition to Lai, six former Apple Daily staff members are also detained and face life imprisonment under similar charges. On 24 October, RSF launched the #FreeJimmyLai petition calling for the urgent release of Jimmy Lai and the Apple Daily staff.
Over the past two years, the Hong Kong government has been leading an unprecedented campaign against press freedom which included the forced shutdown of independent media outlets Apple Daily and Stand News and the prosecution of at least 23 journalists and press freedom defenders, 11 of whom are currently detained.
In a report titled The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, RSF revealed last year 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.