Jimmy Lai, the imprisoned founder of Hong Kong’s Next Digital media company and Apple Daily newspaper, will be honored with the 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, the board of directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists has announced. The award, named after the acclaimed American journalist who died in 2016, recognizes an individual’s extraordinary and sustained commitment to press freedom. No journalist is more deserving than Lai of this honour.
Lai, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, has become a powerful symbol of the struggle to maintain press freedom in Hong Kong. He has been imprisoned for allegedly violating China’s National Security Law and, separately, was sentenced in April to 14 months in prison for allegedly organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations in 2019. On June 16, more than 100 police officers raided the offices of Apple Daily and arrested five journalists and executives, including the editor-in-chief. In the following days, they arrested two more journalists.
On June 23, Next Digital announced that Apple Daily, which reportedly had more than 600,000 paid subscribers, would cease publication the next day. The paper was often critical of Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and press freedom in the city. Its loss is a blow to the people of the city who for decades have enjoyed free access to information.
“China has managed to snuff that out in stark violation of firm commitments it made to the people of Hong Kong during the handover from British rule in 1997,” said Steve Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
Jimmy Lai with a copy of Apple Daily. Photography courtesy AP/Vincent Yu