May 3, 2023 — On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International mobilizes in support of Hong Kong media tycoon, Jimmy Lai.
(London, UK) –To mark the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, PEN International mobilizes its centres in support of imprisoned journalist, media publisher, activist, and writer, Jimmy Lai, who is currently facing a potential life sentence for his journalism in Hong Kong.
Owner of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, which was once regarded as Hong Kong’s most prolific pro-democracy news outlet before it was forced to close by the authorities on June 24, 2021, Lai has been continuously imprisoned since December 2020 following his initial detention in August 2020 on multiple charges for his journalism and activism. He has already received several convictions of unauthorized assembly for his participation in peaceful pro-democracy protests, including a 13-month sentence for briefly appearing at a vigil on June 4, 2020, to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
On December 10, 2022, Human Rights Day, Lai was sentenced to a total of five years and nine months imprisonment for violating the terms of a commercial lease for the headquarters of Apple Daily’s parent company. He faces further charges under the National Security Law (NSL), which could result in a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Lai’s ongoing detention is emblematic of the NSL’s devastating impact on freedom of expression and press freedom across Hong Kong and is illustrative of the authorities’ willingness to use the legal system to silence dissenting voices. In addition to Lai, a dozen journalists are currently detained, and the chilling effect caused by the NSL has resulted in a climate of self-censorship across the territory, with several media outlets having dissolved in an effort to protect their staff from potential prosecution under the law for their critical journalism.
Before Apple Daily was forced to close, Lai wrote a letter to his staff from prison, telling them that ‘freedom of speech is a dangerous job’ and that ‘it is time for us to stand tall with our heads held high’. He received a twelve-month sentence just days later.
For over a century, PEN International’s global membership has been mobilizing in support of an independent and free press, defending journalists who have been threatened, imprisoned, and sometimes killed for speaking truth to power, and urging political leaders to guarantee freedom of expression, recognized by the United Nations as a driver for all other human rights.
PEN International calls on the Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai and to drop all charges against him. We also call on the authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and uphold the right to freedom of expression for all. Journalism is not a crime.
Take Action Today to Free Jimmy Lai
This solidarity action is in collaboration with English PEN’s PENWrites campaign. All letters will be subject to screening as a safety precaution. PENWrites is English PEN’s international letter-writing campaign in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world. For decades, PEN has supported writers who are persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and PEN members have long supported fellow writers by sending letters of solidarity. #PENWrites.
Please take a few moments to write a message of solidarity and support for Jimmy Lai and share PEN International’s campaign posts on your social media using the hashtags: #FreeJimmyLai #JimmyLai #WorldPressFreedomDay when posting.
Journalists are the eyes and ears of society. With their work, they meet the need for democratic liberties, a need that can never be erased. They must be able to speak and write about matters of public interest without fear of interference, arrest or other forms of reprisal or persecution. Jimmy Lai is no exception to this. We stand by his side today and every day. — Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Imprisoned Writers Committee
Text credit: PEN International
Image credit: Mark Simon