10/17/2023, 19.06
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Screening in Rome of documentary about Jimmy Lai, jailed for more than a thousand days

by Daniele Frison

The "The Hong Konger" had its Italian premiere in the same venue where Jacques Maritain promoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The documentary follows the story of the Catholic entrepreneur jailed for his battle in favour of democracy in Hong Kong.

Roma (AsiaNews) – "If you're a bird, you'd rather die singing than living a silent life,” is a Chinese saying and starts off The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai's extraordinary struggle for freedom, a documentary produced in 2022 by the Acton Institute whose premiere in Italy was held yesterday afternoon at the Institut Français Centre Saint-Louis in Rome.

The film tells the story of the 75-year-old Hong Kong businessman and activist, jailed for more than a thousand days because of the pro-democracy ideas he spread through the Apple Daily, the widely read independent newspaper he founded, forced to shut down by the authorities in 2021, following the promulgation of the mainland’s national security law.

Under the influence of his wife Teresa, he converted to Catholicism in 1997 and was baptised by Card Joseph Zen. During his life, he has put the fight for freedom ahead of everything else.

The choice of venue for the screening also is historically and morally significant.  Founded by Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, the Centre Saint-Louis was where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was debated and elaborated before its promulgation in Paris on 10 December 1948.  

About 180 people took part in the screening. “We're going to make sure Lai's family and his colleagues from the Apple Daily get word of such a large number of attendees in support of his cause," said Michael Severance, director of the Acton Institute's Rome office.

Set up in Michigan to promote a free society based on religious principles, the think tank produced the documentary partly because of the friendship between Jimmy Lai and its founder, Fr Robert A. Sirico, who was present in Rome along with activists Sunny Cheung, Joey Siu, Samuel Chu and others, such as British politician David Alton.

"I met Lai and his family more than 25 years ago, in Italy," said Fr Sirico. “When the events of the last few years happened, I asked myself what I could do for him. I would like you to try to answer this question: What means do I have at my disposal to stop this injustice?"

Fr Robert then pointed out that Jimmy Lai, a businessman who became a billionaire thanks to the success of his Giordano clothing brand, could have given up his battles at any time.

He didn't do it because, as the documentary makes clear, he was looking for something deeper than profit in his activities: a moral force, values to which he could dedicate his life.

Hence, the clergyman urges others to “Talk about this story, use all the means you have at your disposal. Jimmy Lai is a representative of so many other people who suffer the same injustice."

On 24 June 2021, when the Apple Daily newspaper ceased publication, it printed a headline on the last copy that is also the concluding message of The Hong Konger": "When an apple is buried in the ground, its seeds will become a tree full of bigger, more beautiful apples."

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