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Hong Kong's Catholic millionaire pledges to fight for democracy

Jimmy Lai has been a supporter of Cardinal Joseph Zen, who baptized him in 1997

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: October 10, 2020 04:36 AM GMT
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Hong Kong's Catholic millionaire pledges to fight for democracy

Jimmy  Lai was arrested on Aug. 10 under Beijing's new national security law. (Photo: AFP)

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Hong Kong's millionaire and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who faces criminal charges after he supported a pro-democracy movement, says he will not leave the city or his faith in God.

Lai, a British-Hong Kong citizen, is accused of "colluding" with foreign forces under the sweeping national security law for supporting the pro-democracy movement. But he said he would not leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom.

"If I go away, I not only give up my destiny, I give up God, I give up my religion, I give up what I believe in," the Catholic said in a video conversation with the US-based Napa Institute on Oct. 5.

"I am what I am. I am what I believe. I cannot change it. And if I can't change it, I have to accept my fate with praise.

"When you lift yourself above your own self-interest, you find the meaning of life. You find you're doing the right thing, which is so wonderful. It changed my life into a different thing."

Lai told the Catholic institute that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is eager to supplant religion with government control and guidelines.

He said he had supported the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for the past 30 years because of "the Lord's teaching that your life is not about yourself."

"The way I look at it, if I suffer for the right cause, it only defines the person I am becoming. It can only be good for me to become a better person. If you believe in the Lord, if you believe that all suffering has a reason, and the Lord is suffering with me ... I'm at peace with it."

When police conducted an Aug. 10 raid on the office of Apple Daily, the newspaper Lai started in 1995, he was arrested along with at least nine others for their role in the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony.

Though Lai is out on bail, he is charged under the draconian national security law, which China imposed on July 1, bypassing the Hong Kong legislature.

Under the new law, a person who is found guilty of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces can get a minimum of 10 years of jail.

Lai came to Hong Kong when he was 12 years old from mainland China. He launched a chain of clothing stores under the brand name Giordano's, which fetched rich dividends and allowed him to launch pro-democracy magazines and newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In 1997, he was baptized by Cardinal Joseph Zen, the then bishop of Hong Kong.

Cardinal Zen, a fierce critic of communism and supporter of democratic rights, retired in 2009. Lai financially supported Cardinal Zen's programs, which included sponsoring mainland Catholic priests in studies and training.

Both Lai and Cardinal Zen also oppose a temporary agreement Vatican and China signed two years ago on bishop appointments on the mainland with the papal mandate. The Vatican and China have announced plans to renew the agreement this month when it expires.

Lai expressed disappointment over the Vatican's talks with China to renew the agreement. Last month Cardinal Zen visited the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, but he was denied an appointment with him.

The Vatican should uphold moral values when they need it the most, Lai added.

Thousands of Catholics in Hong Kong are involved in Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, which started last year.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. It was a British colony until 1997 when it was returned to China under a "one country, two systems" principle, which helped Hong Kong have its own legislature and economic system.

Pro-democracy activists say China continues to choke Hong Kong's democratic system, with its communist policies violating human rights and freedom of expression and movement.

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