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Jailed Hong Kong Media Boss Jimmy Lai Wins Press Freedom Award

2020-12-08 -- Jailed Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai has been awarded a 2020 Press Freedom Award by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Lai, who is currently behind bars pending trial on "fraud" charges linked to his pro-democracy Next Media empire, was given a special award by the group to show support in the face of "the sharp decline in press freedom in Hong Kong due to pressure from the Chinese regime," the group said.

"Lai [is the] founder of one of the few Hong Kong media which still dares to openly criticise the Chinese regime and which widely covered last year's pro-democracy protests," RSF said in a statement following the award ceremony on the democratic island of Taiwan.

Sebastian Lai received the award in place of his father.

"High standards, courage, impact, and independence, all while respecting journalism ethics, are among the criteria of these awards," RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire said.

He said the awards are also intended "to support all of the nominees, their work and highlight the risks they frequently must take to inform the public."

CĂ©dric Alviani, RSF East Asia Bureau head, said the award ceremony was held in Taipei in recognition of Taiwan's strong track record in supporting press freedom.

"Taiwan consistently ranks among the top [countries] in the Asian region and presents the best alternative model to the Chinese authoritarian system," Alviani said.

Lai was sent to Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre on Dec. 3 after his bail application relating to a fraud charge against him was rejected, in a move that sparked widespread criticism owing to the non-violent nature of the charge against him.

He will remain in custody until his next court hearing in April. The RSF award coincided with his 73rd birthday.

Value of a free press

In a pre-recorded video translated by the English edition of his Apple Daily newspaper, Lai said: "The work Reporters Without Borders [has done] is so important, reminding us in Asia and in the world of the value of open and free press."

"Now, our open and free press in Hong Kong is being clamped down by the [ruling Chinese Communist Party] by using the national security law," he said. "We are not even allowed to demonstrate."

"I'm afraid that without the news, the world will forget us," he said. "Please, fellow reporters, please keep on writing about us."

Lai is currently being held in a solitary cell at the detention center, where he has received visits from his sons and from Hong Kong's outspoken Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, with whom he shares his faith.

Lai and two senior executives from his Next Digital media empire are accused of subletting parts of the company's headquarters to other companies owned by Lai, in breach of its 1995 lease with the Hong Kong Science Park.

However, administrative director Wong Wai-keung and chief operating officer Royston Chow were released on bail.

At a Dec. 3 hearing, prosecutors argued that Lai typically spent much of his time outside Hong Kong, and was therefore at risk of absconding.

Since 2002, Hong Kong has fallen from 18th place in the RSF World Press Freedom Index to 80th place in 2020.

Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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