Index on Censorship, a global magazine campaigning for freedom of expression, recently released six letters written by Jimmy Lai in prison. Lai is the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily, an outspoken Hong Kong newspaper critical of Beijing.
He was arrested on Aug. 10, 2020, after being accused of “collusion with foreign forces” following the Chinese regime’s imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, and he was later released on bail. He was arrested again in December on additional accusations and is currently serving a 20-month prison term.
In its article titled, “Beijing’s fearless foe with God on his side,” Index of Censorship revealed that Lai’s wife Teresa is a devout Catholic. Under her influence, Lai converted to Catholicism when Hong Kong came under Chinese rule. He has been a brave prisoner of conscience because of his dedication to his faith.
Apple Daily published its last edition of one million copies on June 24, 2021. Lai’s first letter from prison expressed his anger over the closure of the newspaper.
“Yes, this barbaric suppression intimidation works. Hong Kong people are all quieted down. But the muted anger they have is not going away. … The vicious circle of suppression-anger-and-distrust eventually will turn Hong Kong into a prison, a cage, like Xinjiang. World, cry for Hong Kong people,” he wrote.
‘If You Are Worry[ing] About Me, Please Don’t’
Lai wrote his second letter in July 2021, to a Canadian hotel employee named Bob. Lai consoled him for having to endure a lot of hardship during the pandemic. He told Bob not to worry about him, because he is keeping himself “busy reading the scriptures, gospels, theology, and books of the saints and their lives.”
He described his life as “peaceful and edifying.”
“There is always a price to pay when you put truth, justice, and goodness ahead of your own comfort, safety, and physical wellbeing, or your life becomes a lie. I choose truth instead of a lie and pay the price. Luckily God has made this price a grace in disguise. I am so grateful,” Lai wrote in his letter.
In another letter, Lai wrote to a friend James. Lai said his life in prison is “full and at peace.” However, he was worried about his wife Teresa.
“She has lost a lot of weight under the grief of my situation. Lucky she has God [to] abide [with] her,” he wrote.
In October 2021, Lai wrote to his former business associate, sharing his joy of a recent family visit and his busy life in prison.
“I am doing fine here. Happy to see Teresa, Claire, Tim and Ian, and my brother. … Teresa looks weak and weighed down by grief. But with her prayers, she will slug it through.
“I am keeping myself busy here. Spiritual study, drawing, and trying to improve my English writing skill. Take care!
“So sweet of you to write me. Please keep writing. May God be with you all!”
In a November 2021 letter to a friend, Lai quoted the 15th-century German priest Thomas a Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ.
“If thou willingly bear the Cross, it will bear thee, and will bring thee to the end which thou seekest, even where there shall be the end of suffering; though it shall not be here.
“If thou bear it unwillingly, thou makest a burden for thyself and greatly increaseth thy load, and yet thou must bear it.”
At the end of this letter, Lai wrote, ‘Lord, remember those who shed their blood in Tiananmen Square.”
According to Index of Censorship, 74-year-old Lai was born in Guangzhou. He escaped communist rule at the age of 12 by stealing his way into Hong Kong, hidden in the bottom of a small fishing boat. He later became a self-made business tycoon in Hong Kong.
Awakened by Beijing’s crushing of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, he decided to start his publishing business to continue the students’ campaign to advocate democracy.
After the Chinese Communist Party tightened its grip on Hong Kong in 2020, Lai had the chance to flee to safety, but he chose to stay in Hong Kong to fight for freedom.