Remember Jimmy Lai?

By Kevin Andrews
Kevin Andrews
Kevin Andrews
The Hon. Kevin Andrews served in the Australian Parliament from 1991 to 2022 and held various cabinet posts, including Minister for Defence.
February 3, 2023Updated: February 5, 2023


Do you remember Jimmy Lai, the successful Hong Kong businessman who founded the Giordano fashion chain and, subsequently, the Apple Daily media company?

Jimmy Lai has been in prison since Dec. 31, 2020.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would like you to forget all about Jimmy Lai. Out of sight, out of mind.

Lai’s life is a “rags to riches” story. After escaping China as a stowaway on a boat at just 12 years of age, Lai started working under oppressive conditions in a garment factory.

He was promoted to factory manager before starting his own clothing business, which eventually became the very successful Giordano fashion chain.

Following the Tiananmen Square massacre, Lai founded Next magazine, which became the most popular magazine in Hong Kong.

Epoch Times Photo
People hold up copies of the Apple Daily as they protest for press freedom inside a mall in Hong Kong on Aug. 11, 2020. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)

Read by the middle class; the weekly publication appealed to the supporters of economic and political freedom.

A sister publication, Sudden Weekly, also attracted a strong readership.

In 1995, Lai launched Apple Daily, which had a distinctly pro-democracy editorial stance, earning the ire of the communist regime. By Hong Kong standards, the paper was a racy tabloid.

It became the largest pro-democracy, Chinese-language, mass-circulation daily newspaper in Hong Kong. However, it was shut down by the CCP in June 2021.

Imprisoned for Wanting Freedom

Lai was jailed in December 2020 while awaiting trial on various charges. He was briefly released on bail, but this was reversed, and he has been imprisoned since the end of December 2020.

Last December, he was sentenced to more than five years’ imprisonment on a series of falsified fraud charges, having already served two other sentences, including for lighting a candle and saying a prayer to mark the Tiananmen Square carnage and for participating in a peaceful protest.

The CCP has gone to great lengths to keep Lai in jail. He is currently awaiting trial, finally set down for the coming September, for violating the National Security Law.

This law is a vaguely worded, draconian provision that allows the regime to claim almost any action as a breach of national security.

So desperate is the regime that it has tried to ban Lai’s chief legal counsel, London KC Tim Owen, on the trumped up suggestion that his representation of Lai would endanger national security.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal had approved Owen’s representation, leading the regime to appeal to Beijing to override the court.

The reality is that the reference to national security is a cover to allow the regime to do whatever it pleases, which in this case, is to make an example of Jimmy Lai and jail him for life.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the founder of Apple Daily, is detained by the national security unit in Hong Kong, China, on Aug. 10, 2020. (Tyrone Siu TPX Images of the day/Reuters)

The CCP’s claim that it abides by the rule of law is preposterous. Only in a totalitarian state like China could anyone believe that the rule of law applies.

Lai’s story is told in the documentary film, “The Hong Konger.” Produced by the Acton Institute, it reveals that Lai became a Catholic in 1997.

Having a British passport, the 75-year-old Lai could have left Hong Kong before he was arrested, but he chose to stay and fight for liberty and freedom.

As his friend, William McGurn, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, said: “He’s in prison today for a simple reason. His publications told the truth about China and Hong Kong.”

While various individuals and organisations have spoken up for Lai, one voice has remained silent, Pope Francis.

Lai’s friend, Cardinal Joseph Zen, also persecuted by the communist regime, has appealed to the Pope, but to date, the Vatican seems more interested in its secret deal with the CCP despite it having been blatantly breached.

No One Is Safe

In the meantime, Australian journalist Cheng Lei also remains in detention.

The former anchor of the state-owned television station CGTN was detained in August 2020 and subsequently charged with “supplying state secrets overseas.”

Epoch Times Photo
Australian journalist Cheng Lei is seen on a television set in Beijing, China, in this still image taken from undated video footage. (Australia Global Alumni-Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Handout via Reuters)

No details of the charges have been provided to Australian authorities. Nor have the hearings been transparent, with embassy officials locked out on the pretence that the proceedings involve “state secrets”—a vague notion to allow the regime to do what it likes.

No foreigner is safe in China. Both the police and the judiciary are an arm of the CCP.

Jimmy Lai and Cheng Lei cannot be forgotten. Their treatment should be condemned by all defenders of human dignity and liberty.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.