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First prosecution witness testifies against Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong
First prosecution witness testifies against Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong
Asia
First prosecution witness testifies against Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong
by DZRH News18 January 2024
FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand guard outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts during the national security trial of media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, in Hong Kong, China December 18, 2023. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo

By Jessie Pang and Edward Cho

HONG KONG (Reuters) -The first prosecution witness to testify in a landmark national security case against Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai said on Wednesday he had been instructed by Lai to call people to join protests in 2019 and draw the attention of western democracies.

The witness, Cheung Kim-hung, said Lai believed a proposed law that would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent to China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party would be used to crackdown on the territory's democracy and freedoms.

According to Cheung, Lai said "the business community was very much concerned" and "if the law was enacted, media would not survive".

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The bill was later withdrawn by the government. But mass demonstrations over the bill evolved into pro-democracy protests that rocked the city for months.

Lai, 76, founder of the now defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, has pleaded not guilty to two charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and a lesser charge of conspiracy to publish seditious material.

For years an outspoken critic of China's Communist Party, Lai is the highest profile figure to face prosecution under the security laws that Beijing imposed on the financial hub in 2020.

"PRESSURE THE GOVERNMENT"

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Cheung, former CEO of Apple Daily's parent company, Next Digital, said Lai gave him instructions to "use Apple Daily to call people to take to the streets, to demonstrate, and to pressure the government".

He told the court that the image of Lai "was all along very clear, who pursued democracy, freedom and was anti-totalitarian".

Cheung added that Lai had a view of "getting the attention of Western democratic countries, hoping that they could provide assistance, and even take stronger actions, including imposing sanctions".

Lai's trial is being closely watched by diplomats.

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Hong Kong's former colonial ruler Britain and the United States have called for Lai's immediate release, saying the case is politically motivated. Hong Kong officials say Lai will receive a fair trial.

Both Chinese and Hong Kong officials have said the national security laws were vital to restoring stability in Hong Kong. They punish acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life imprisonment.

Other prosecution witnesses include Apple Daily's former associate publisher Chan Pui-man, former editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee, activist Andy Li and a paralegal Chan Tsz-wah. They have all pleaded guilty and will be sentenced at the end of the trial.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Edward Cho and Dorothy Kam; Editing by Greg Torode, Neil Fullick and Ros Russell)

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