Taipei, October 25, 2022 – In response to news reports that a court in Hong Kong on Tuesday convicted Jimmy Lai, founder of the Next Digital Limited media company and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, of fraud, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement condemning the verdict:
“Today’s conviction of Jimmy Lai on trumped-up fraud charges shows that Hong Kong will stop at nothing to silence one of its fiercest media critics,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg in New York. “Lai is clearly being targeted for his journalism, and the persecution must stop. Hong Kong authorities should let Lai go free and drop all charges against him.”
The court convicted Lai of two counts of fraud for allegedly violating the terms of the lease of Next Digital’s headquarters. A sentence has yet to be announced, but Lai will appeal, Next Digital executive Mark Simon told CPJ via email.
Wong Wai-keung, a Next Digital administrative director who has been awaiting trial on bail, was also convicted on the same charge.
Lai has been behind bars since December 2020 and has served a 20-month prison term for two other charges relating to his alleged involvement with unauthorized demonstrations. He is awaiting trial on national security charges, for which he faces life imprisonment; proceedings are expected to begin on December 1.
In 2021, Lai received CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in recognition of his extraordinary and sustained commitment to press freedom.
China was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2021, according to CPJ’s December 1 prison census. It was also the first time that journalists in Hong Kong appeared on CPJ’s census.