The Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom award of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), was awarded to the publisher Jimmy Lai and the editorial staff of the Apple Daily From Hong Kong.
The award, presented virtually during the 2021 World Media Congress, highlights “the fears and challenges of journalists in Hong Kong, the region and the world, in the face of increasing restrictions on their ability to perform. their work in a credible and independent way ”, surrounded by the Chinese regime that seeks to undermine the sovereignty of the island.
“The imprisonment of an editor, the arrest of an editor-in-chief and his high-level colleagues, the closure of a newsroom and the closure of a media outlet – the 2021 Gold Pen award recognizes and reflects on all of this.”Stated Warren Fernández, President of the World Editors Forum, announcing the award.
“Journalism is at the forefront of history,” said Sebastien Lai, accepting the award on behalf of his incarcerated father, Jimmy, and the staff of the Apple Daily. “Record the present and report on the future. It is a control against the powerful, and the voice of the people in times of struggle ”.
“With the closure of Apple Daily in Hong Kong, and the crackdown on journalism across the region, fewer and fewer people will light up these dark corners.”He continued. “Thank you very much for this award, but please keep Dad, the Hong Kong staff of Apple Daily and the people of Hong Kong in your thoughts as these events unfold.”
Until its last printed edition, on June 24, 2021, Apple Daily it was one of the most popular Chinese language newspapers in Hong Kong. But on June 17, Hong Kong authorities, responding to Beijing, turned to the controversial national security law to detain editor-in-chief Ryan Law and four other top executives, and freeze the company’s assets, as well as those of the founder, Jimmy Lai, who at that time had already been in jail for more than seven months. A week later, the newspaper was forced to close.
Following the passage of the national security law in June 2020, which opponents say severely limits freedom of expression and the right to protest in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai was arrested on August 10 at his home for alleged collusion with foreign forces, a crime contemplated in the new legislation.. That same morning, more than 200 national security agents raided the Apple Daily newsroom. Mr. Lai was soon released on bail, but on December 3, 2020, he had been arrested again for his involvement in unauthorized protests. He remains in prison facing six different charges that could lead to a life sentence.
Jimmy Lai has openly criticized Beijing’s control over Hong Kong and has been a prominent defender of the pro-democracy movement., which has turned him and his media company into regular targets of the authorities.
In 2013, a group of masked men ambushed his home, threatening workers and burning thousands of copies of the Apple Daily. A year later, anti-corruption officials raided Lai’s home over leaking documents showing that he had donated millions of dollars to pro-democracy groups prior to the 2014 Occupy Movement protests.
After fleeing mainland China at age 12 and settling in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai worked his way from humble beginnings to leading a successful clothing manufacturing empire. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he became an ardent critic of the Beijing government.. He founded Next Media and, in 1995, launched Apple Daily, which soon became one of the most popular newspapers in Hong Kong.
It wasn’t long before Apple Daily became a symbol of pro-democracy and public dissent. Its anti-government stance led to advertising boycotts, as well as hacks and cyberattacks.
In April 2021, Apple Daily published a letter that Jimmy Lai had sent to staff from his cell: “The responsibility of a journalist [es] defend justice, ”he wrote. “The age is crumbling before us, and it is time for us to stand firm.”
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