Global media leaders unite with RSF, call for immediate release of Hong Kong press freedom icon Jimmy Lai

Apple Daily founder and publisher, Jimmy Lai, in Hong Kong. Photo: RSF

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Over 100 media leaders worldwide have joined forces with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the world press freedom watchdog organisation headquartered in Paris, to demand the immediate release of Jimmy Lai, a prominent figure symbolising press freedom in Hong Kong.

Prominent media leaders from around the world have united with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in an unprecedented joint statement, expressing support for the detained Apple Daily founder and publisher, Jimmy Lai, in Hong Kong, and demanding his immediate release. The joint statement, signed by publishers, editors-in-chief, and senior editors from 42 countries, including two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, aims to draw attention to the deteriorating state of press freedom in Hong Kong.

The statement, signed by 116 media leaders from Egypt to Turkey, India to Gambia, Myanmar to Mongolia, and beyond, emphasises the significance of Jimmy Lai in the global fight for press freedom. Lai, a laureate of RSF's Press Freedom Prize, has dedicated the past 25 years to upholding the values of freedom of speech and press through his independent media outlet, Apple Daily. However, he has been detained since December 2020 in a maximum-security jail, repeatedly denied bail. Lai is currently serving concurrent sentences for charges related to attending "unauthorised" pro-democracy protests and allegations of fraud. More alarmingly, he now faces the possibility of a life sentence under the draconian national security law, with his trial scheduled to begin on 25 September.

"We stand with Jimmy Lai. We believe he has been targeted for publishing independent reporting, and we condemn all charges against him. We call for his immediate release," declared the signatories, also advocating for the release of the 13 journalists currently detained in Hong Kong and the dropping of any remaining charges against the 28 journalists targeted under national security and other laws in the past three years.

Among the signatories are the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureates Dmitry Muratov (Novaya Gazeta, Russia) and Maria Ressa (Rappler, the Philippines), as well as prominent figures such as A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times; Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post; Goli Sheikholeslami, CEO of The Washington Post; Matthew Kaminski, editor-in-chief of Politico; and numerous editors from major UK newspapers including The Telegraph, The Times, The Sun, The Daily Mirror, Mail newspapers, The Guardian and The Tibet Post International. Media leaders from France, Germany, Sweden, and various other countries have also lent their support.

"We have brought these powerful voices together to show that the international media community will not tolerate the targeting of their fellow publisher. When press freedom is threatened anywhere, it is threatened everywhere. Jimmy Lai must be released without further delay, along with all 13 detained journalists, and urgent steps taken to repair the severe damage that has been done to Hong Kong's press freedom climate over the past three years, before it is too late," stated Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General.

Sebastien Lai, the son of Jimmy Lai, expressed gratitude for the support received, saying, "Hong Kong is now a city shrouded in a blanket of fear. Those who criticise the authorities are threatened, prosecuted, imprisoned. My father has been in prison since 2020 because he spoke out against CCP power. Because he stood up for what he believes in. It is deeply moving to now see so many powerful voices - Nobel prize winners, and many of the leading newspapers and media organisations across the world - speak out for him."

Over the past three years, China has utilised the national security law and other legislation to prosecute at least 28 journalists, press freedom defenders, and collaborators in Hong Kong. Currently, 13 individuals, including Jimmy Lai and six staff members of Apple Daily, remain in detention, while the newspaper itself has been forcibly shut down. This closure is widely regarded as the final blow to press freedom in Hong Kong.

The World Press Freedom Index by RSF ranks Hong Kong at a concerning 140th out of 180 countries in 2023, marking a drastic decline from its 18th place ranking just two decades ago. China, the governing authority in Hong Kong, is ranked even lower at 175th out of the 180 countries and territories surveyed.

The joint statement released by RSF and signed by more than 100 influential media leaders underscores the urgent need to address the dire situation in Hong Kong. The international media community stands united in its unwavering support for Jimmy Lai and demands his immediate release, along with the liberation of all detained journalists. The signatories also call for an end to the persistent targeting of journalists under national security and other laws, which has severely undermined press freedom in the region.

The joint statement and the impressive list of signatories serve as a powerful reminder that the suppression of press freedom in Hong Kong is not an isolated issue but one that resonates with media professionals worldwide. It sends a clear message that the global media community will not tolerate the suppression of independent journalism and will fight for the protection of press freedom wherever it is threatened.

As the trial of Jimmy Lai approaches, the world will be closely watching the proceedings, hoping for a fair and just outcome. The international media leaders who have come together in support of Lai and press freedom in Hong Kong hope that their collective voice will amplify the call for justice, freedom, and the restoration of a vibrant and independent press in the territory.

The full text of the joint statement and the list of signatories can be accessed for download, providing a comprehensive overview of the influential figures and organisations that have rallied behind Jimmy Lai's cause. Their unwavering support serves as a testament to the enduring importance of a free press and the vital role it plays in upholding democratic values and ensuring accountability in society.