Six former Apple Daily executives have been charged with “conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer to sell, distribute, display or reproduce a seditious publication.”
They are former CEO of Next Media, Cheung Kim-hung; former Vice-President, Law Wai-kwong; former Executive Editor-in-Chief, Lam Man-chung; former English Chief Writer, Lo Fung (pen name); and Chinese Writer, Lee Ping (pen name).
According to Chapter 200 Articles 10(1)(c), 159A, and 159C of the Criminal offenses Regulations, any person who conspires to publish, publishes, sells, distributes, displays or copies incites publications shall be guilty of the offense.
All senior executives intend to plead guilty. The formal answer has been scheduled for November 29. However, Jimmy Lai chi-ying and the three companies under Apple Daily pleaded not guilty. Their trial is set for Dec. 1.
The six defendants will be sentenced after the trials of Jimmy Lai and three of the former Apple Daily companies.
In addition, Lai has been charged with both conspiracy to collude and colluding with foreign or foreign forces to endanger national security. The maximum penalty for collusion under Articles 29 and 30 of the National Security Law (NSL) is life imprisonment.
All defendants have been remanded for more than a year since their arrest.
The case was heard in the High Court on Monday, Aug. 22. Prosecutors revealed that the six former senior executives of Apple Daily intended to plead guilty.
The 74-year-old businessman, Jimmy Lai, denied all charges, including “colluding with a foreign or foreign force to endanger national security,” two counts of “conspiring to collude,” and one count of “conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer to sell, distribute, display and/or reproduce an inflammatory publication.”
As for the three companies associated with Apple Daily, namely Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Co., Ltd., and Apple Daily Network Co. Ltd., they denied one count of “conspiring to print, publish, sell, offer to sell, distribute, display and reproduce incitement publications” and one count of “colluding with foreign or foreign forces to endanger national security.”
A barrister representing the three companies, Charlies Kwok Hong-lun, said, “Apple daily assets were previously frozen by the Security Bureau under National Security Law.” However, Kwok said the freeze has been lifted and withdrawal has been granted to pay for the litigation fees.
As the application is still pending, the company’s legal team hoped the application would be completed as soon as possible. So they can appoint barristers for the trial of the said case.
Former RTHK Host Ng Chi-sum, said on his online program, “Every defendant has been in prison for Hongkongers, its press freedom and freedom of speech for over a year.”
Ng believes careful and rational evaluations were made by those who will plead guilty, “Everyone knows this is a political trial. The remanded understand they will be found guilty no matter what.”
Ng also reckoned that Jimmy Lai Chi-ying, who chose not to plead guilty, also knows the outcome of his case without a jury. He bluntly said, “Either way, a guilty conviction will be made. It only depends on how long the sentencing will be.”
No-jury Trials Caused Controversies
Lam Ting-kwok, one of the three NSL-appointed judges, was said to be the one to decide a closed-door trial for all Apple Daily-related cases and the primaries of 47 Pan-dem runners.
Lam’s decision was to “guarantee the personal safety of jurors and their families” and avoid “actual risks that the trial is conducted in the presence of a jury, it may hinder the proper implementation of justice” under NSL Section 46.
Currently, Section 46 stipulates that “the Secretary for Justice may issue a certificate instructing that the relevant proceedings do not need to be heard by a jury on grounds such as protecting state secrets, having foreign-related elements in the case, or protecting the personal safety of jurors and their families.”
The High Court jury has been replaced by three designated National Security Judges.
The DOJ’s decision goes against the practice of Hong Kong’s common law, which causes public criticism and controversies.
Political Commentator Stephen Siu Yeuk-yuen, stated on his online program, “No authoritarian country will allow a jury.”
Siu also mentioned, “One of the main focuses of the common law is to appeal to the conscience of society as a whole and the views of ordinary people.” He said a jury is an embodiment of “beyond the law, there are human relationships.”
Siu also pointed out another issue with the NSL. The Law adds ‘et Cetera’ after its reasoning. That suggests the DOJ can use any sort of excuse to deny a jury present in a trial.
Jimmy Lai Possibly Jailed for Life
Lai has gone through many legal procedures and debated with the prosecution.
Lai applied for judicial review in the High Court at the beginning of August, challenging a search warrant police obtained recently.
In 2020 police were granted a search warrant for seizing two of Lai’s mobile phones in his apartment. Then HKPF used NSL to obtain another warrant in August 2022 to inspect the information stored in the mobile phones. This information was journalistic materials. The only provision which allows police to inspect journalist materials is in the Interpretation of Words and Expression.
The authorities used NSL to overrule the only provision which protects journalistic materials.
Lai has requested the court to revoke the warrant decision made by Magistrate Law Tak-chuen. The review is still pending as of Aug. 31.
Lai was also accused of fraud, and intent to hinder judicial justice.
In August 2020, Hong Kong Police arrested Jimmy Lai for violating national security law and fraud. In June 2021, multiple Apple Daily senior executives were arrested. Later that month, Apple Daily closed down and ran its final print. The High Court also ordered Next Media’s liquidation.
In August 2022, Taiwan Apple Daily ceased operation.
Lai has been remanded in prison since December 2020, before any trial.