Jimmy Lai's crucifix

An image of Christ on the cross painted in Stanley Prison by the Catholic businessman on trial under the National Security Act is on display at the Catholic University of Washington. Meanwhile Agnes Chow from Canada recounts her imprisonment in Hong Kong in a video.

Milan (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A painting with a Christ hanging from a large green cross surrounded by eight large orange flowers. With the author's signature clearly visible and the place and day it was painted: Jimmy Lay, Stanley Prison in Hong Kong, 13 August 2022.

The image has already been standing for a few days in the chapel dedicated to St Michael inside the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of Washington. It is a visible testimony of how much faith is the force that is sustaining the 76-year-old Catholic entrepreneur, founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, who has been in prison in Hong Kong for more than four years now for supporting pro-democracy movements through the newspaper.

While in prison, Jimmy Lai paints and often produces paintings with a religious theme, not too much appreciated by the local authorities who, according to some testimonies, have even tried to prevent him from doing so.

For this reason, the permanent exhibition of his work at the Catholic University of Washington, promoted by his friend Fr. Robert Sirico, founder of the Acton Institute, is particularly significant. In order to keep the spotlight on Jimmy Lai, he has also made the documentary "The Hong Konger", which recounts his life, his battles and above all the faith that guided his courageous choices.

All this is happening as the trial in Hong Kong in which he faces a life sentence under the National Security Act takes on increasingly grotesque overtones. In yesterday's hearing, the prosecutor went so far as to bring as 'evidence' of Jimmy Lai's collusion with foreign forces a statement by Donald Trump who, after the 2020 arrest, publicly called the Apple Daily publisher 'a brave man'.

More generally, the paper's former editors-in-chief are being asked to account for the choices they made regarding individual articles in their coverage of the 2019 events in Hong Kong and the directives they received from the editor. This is also very significant in the light of the ongoing debate on Article 23, the local legislation that, again in the name of 'security', is supposed to further restrict the space for freedom of expression.

The head of the government, John Lee, has compressed the space and time for public discussion of the new measure: any comments are only allowed by the end of the month, and he has already let it filter through that in the opinions that have arrived, favourable opinions would prevail by far. A fact that is not surprising given what has happened to any voice that tries to advance pro-democracy demands.

Despite this, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has nevertheless voiced its concern that the Article 23 Enforcement Act may have 'far-reaching implications' for the press. In a statement of its own, it called on the authorities to provide clearer definitions for the provisions on offences, including outside interference and theft of state secrets, which are too vague and can easily be used to target press freedom.

Meanwhile, Agnes Chow, a young Catholic pro-democracy activist, who was also imprisoned under the National Security Act and only recently managed to escape abroad after a 're-educational tour' in Shenzhen, has also returned from Canada, where she found refuge.

In a more than twenty-minute video posted on YouTube, Agnes Chow - who is officially back on the wanted list of the Hong Kong police - recounts in detail the months she spent in prison, including being held in solitary confinement. She also recounts reading more than 20 novels by Japanese author Keigo Higashino, as well as many other popular fantasy series, to forget the harsh reality of her situation.

"Sometimes when I finished a novel and came back to reality... surrounded by walls, sitting on a hard bed, it really filled me with a sense of loneliness and sadness," she recalls. Chow says she does not take lightly the freedom she now has to speak in front of a camera, adding that she hopes to continue making videos in the future.