Imprisoned Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has received the 2021 Golden Pen of Freedom award from the World Association of News Publishers. The award was presented on December 1 during the association's virtual 2021 world news Media Congress. Lai shared the award with staff members of his defunct newspaper, the Apple Daily, according to a statement on the association's website.

The statement noted that the award had been accepted by the publisher's son Sebastien Lai on behalf of the imprisoned honorees. "Thank you very much for this award but please keep dad, the Apple Daily newsroom in Hong Kong, and the people of Hong Kong in your thoughts as these events unfold," the son said, in remarks quoted in the statement.

Journalism "is a check against the powerful and the voice of the people in times of strife," he added.

The Apple Daily had been the former British colony's most widely distributed pro-democracy newspaper until being forced to close in June, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) recalled. The HKFP noted that the newspaper had been sharply critical of Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and other leaders of mainland China.

Support from the U.S.

U.S. Senator Rick Scott went on Twitter to congratulate Lai for the award. The Florida Republican said, "The US stands with you against the oppression of General Secretary Xi."

The Globe and Mail noted that the publisher was now serving a prison sentence for participating in unauthorized protests calling for democracy.

The paper recalled that the closure of the Daily Apple had been made necessary after the freezing of the company's assets and the arrest of the editor-in-chief and other staff members. These actions against the newspaper had been consequences of the national security law imposed on the city by mainland China, the HKFP said.

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The Bloomberg 50 features Lai

When Lai received the Golden Pen of Freedom award, he was also featured as one of The Bloomberg 50, consisting of individuals and concepts which "defined global business in 2021," according to the publication.

"Communist Party officials seem to have decided, early in their crackdown on Hong Kong's protest movement, that Lai and his pro-democracy newspaper were their No.1 target," Bloomberg said.

It recalled past court rulings against the publisher and noted that Lai had yet to be tried on charges of "colluding" with foreigners against China. "For the rest of the city's citizens, the message is clear: In the new Hong Kong, watch what you say."

Recognition from reporters without borders

Reporters Without Borders gave Lai a special prize at its 2020 Press Freedom Awards Ceremony in Taiwan. The organization's website noted that criminal charges against Lai had made it impossible for him to attend the ceremony, and his prize had been presented to his son, Sebastian Lai. The website said that the Hong Kong authorities had brought the following six charges against the publisher:

  • Fraud
  • Intimidation
  • "Inciting others to take part in unauthorized assembly"
  • "Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice"
  • "Conspiracy to collude with foreign forces"
  • "Colluding with foreign forces"