Lawyers for Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying have accused a reporter from a rival newspaper of exaggerating the psychological trauma he suffered in an exchange with the media tycoon, to secure his prosecution and conviction.
The Oriental Daily employee testified in West Kowloon Court for the second day on Friday, against Lai, who has denied criminal intimidation over the encounter during the annual candlelight vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2017, commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
The reporter, who has been granted anonymity by the court, testified on Thursday that he worried about his personal safety when Lai cursed at him and threatened to get someone to “mess with” him, after he took pictures and videos of the 72-year-old during the event.
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On Friday, the defence counsel challenged the reporter’s credibility and suggested he and his company had taken the incident as an opportunity for them to “make life difficult” for the Next Digital boss.
Peter Duncan SC, for Lai, pointed to video footage of the exchange that saw the reporter smiling after being scolded by Lai.
He suggested to the reporter: “The truth of the matter is, you were not at all frightened by what Mr Lai said to you. As seen in the laughing photos, you simply shrugged off what Lai scolded you for.”
The reporter said he regretted not appearing frightened in the video, adding he had pretended to be composed to cool Lai down.
“My laugh was an act, because I wanted [Lai] to calm down,” he said. “There were a lot of reporters that night, and I only felt scared afterwards.”
Duncan then made reference to 17 letters filed to the justice department by the reporter and Oriental Daily, between 2018 and 2019, which the lawyer said showed they had been impatient over the delay in prosecuting Lai.
Some of the letters read out in court claimed the newspaper had been subject to “suppression, nuisance and unfair treatment by multiple government departments and sedition forces against China and Hong Kong”, and the Department of Justice had “chosen to be lenient to the evildoers”.
“Both the management of Oriental Daily and you yourself were extremely unhappy about the time the Department of Justice took to make a decision to charge the defendant,” Duncan told the reporter. “You wanted Jimmy Lai not only to be charged. You wanted him to be convicted.”
The reporter denied that, adding: “I just want to be an honest witness. I don’t care if he’s convicted or not.”
On Thursday, the court heard the reporter had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder – a condition stemming from stressful events – and depressed mood, and paid three visits to a psychiatrist within three months since the incident.
However, Duncan questioned the impact of Lai’s alleged intimidation, and said the reporter’s doctor might not have checked whether he was indeed troubled by Lai’s comments.
Psychiatrist John Wong Yee-him, the consulting doctor, denied he had merely assumed what the reporter said was true, but admitted the reporter had mostly recovered by the time of his third visit, and had not taken medication regularly as prescribed.
The trial continues before Magistrate May Chung Ming-sun on Monday.