Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Jimmy Lai and the Apple Daily Newsroom in Hong Kong

2021-12-01. Jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the newsroom staff of his now shuttered Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily, have been named as recipients of the 2021 WAN-IFRA Golden Pen of Freedom award

by Andrew Heslop | December 1, 2021

The Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom award of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), has been awarded to publisher Jimmy Lai and the staff of the Apple Daily newsroom in Hong Kong.

The award, made virtually during the 2021 World News Media Congress, highlights “the fears and challenges of journalists in Hong Kong, the region, and the world in the face of heightening curbs on their ability to do their jobs credibly and independently.”

“The jailing of a publisher, the arrest of an editor-in-chief and his senior colleagues, the shuttering of a newsroom, and the closure of a media title – the 2021 Golden Pen award recognises, and reflects on, all of these,” said Warren Fernandez, president of the World Editors Forum, in announcing the award.

“Journalism is at the forefront of history,” said Sebastien Lai, accepting the award on behalf of his imprisoned father, Jimmy, and the Apple Daily Hong Kong staff. “It records the now and informs the future. It is a check against the powerful, and the voice of the people in times of strife.”

“With Apple Daily closing in Hong Kong, and a crackdown against journalism across the region, there will be less and less people shining light in these dark corners,” he continued. “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.”

Until its final print edition on 24th June 2021, Apple Daily was one of Hong Kong’s most popular Chinese-language newspapers. But on 17th June, Hong Kong authorities used the controversial national security law to arrest editor-in-chief Ryan Law and four other senior executives, and freeze the company’s assets as well as those of founder, Jimmy Lai – who at that point had already been in jail for over seven months. One week later, the paper was forced to close.

Following the passing of the national security law in June 2020, which opponents say severely limits freedom of speech and the right to protest in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai was arrested on 10th August at his home for allegedly colluding with foreign forces – a crime under the new legislation. That same morning the Apple Daily Newsroom was raided by over 200 national security officers. Mr Lai was soon released on bail, but by 3rd December 2020, he had been arrested once again for his involvement in unauthorised protests. He remains in prison facing six different charges that could lead to a life sentence.

Jimmy Lai has been an outspoken critic of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong and a high-profile supporter of the pro-democracy movement, making him, and his media company, regular targets for the authorities.

In 2013, a group of masked men ambushed his home, threatening workers and burning thousands of copies of Apple Daily. One year later, anti-corruption officials raided Mr Lai’s home over leaked documents that showed he had donated millions of dollars to pro-democracy groups ahead of the 2014 Occupy Movement protests.

After fleeing mainland China at age 12 and settling in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai worked his way from humble beginnings to lead a successful garment manufacturing empire. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he became an ardent critic of the Beijing government. He founded Next Media and in 1995, launched Apple Daily, which soon became one of Hong Kong’s most popular newspapers.

It wasn’t long before Apple Daily became a symbol of pro-democracy and public dissent. Its anti-government position resulted in advertising boycotts, as well as cyber hacks and attacks.

In April 2021, Apple Daily published a letter that Jimmy Lai had sent to staff from his prison cell:

“A journalist’s responsibility [is] to uphold justice,” he wrote. “The era is falling apart before us, and it is time for us to stand tall.”


The Golden Pen of Freedom is WAN-IFRA’s annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. One of the objectives of the Golden Pen is to turn the spotlight of public attention on repressive governments and the journalists who fight them.

 The laureate is nominated from a shortlist of candidates by the board of the World Editors Forum. The first Golden Pen of Freedom was awarded in 1961.

For more on the Golden Pen of Freedom, visit

For a profile of Jimmy Lai, visit

To watch a recording of the 2021 Golden Pen of Freedom virtual award ceremony, visit

Golden Pen of Freedom 1961-2020

2020 Jineth Bedoya Lima, Colombia
2019 Jamal Khashoggi (posthumous), Saudi Arabia
2018 Maria Ressa, Philippines
2017 Can Dündar, Turkey
2016 Dmitry Muratov, Russia
2015 Journalists killed in the line of duty, Worldwide
2014 Eskinder Nega, Ethiopia
2013 Than Htut Aung, Myanmar
2012 Anabel Hernández, México
2011 Dawit Isaak, Eritrea/Sweden
2010 Ahmad Zeidabadi, Iran
2009 Najam Sethi, Pakistan
2008 Li Changqing, China
2007 Shi Tao, China
2006 Akbar Ganji, Iran
2005 Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, Sudan
2004 Ruslan Sharipov, Uzbekistan
2003 Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarus
2002 Geoffrey Nyarota, Zimbabwe
2001 Win Tin, San San Nweh, Burma
2000 Nizar Nayouf, Syria
1999 Faraj Sarkohi, Iran
1998 Doan Viet Hoat, Vietnam
1997 Naša borba, Feral TribuneOslobođenje, Bosnia-Herzogovina
1996 Yndamiro Restano Díaz, Cuba
1995 Gao Yu, China
1994 Omar Belhouchet, Algeria
1993 Pius Njawe, Cameroon
1992 Dai Qing, China
1991 Gitobu Imanyara, Kenya
1990 Luis Gabriel Cano, Colombia
1989 Sergei Grigoryants, Soviet Union
1988 Naji al-Ali (posthumous), Palestinian territories
1987 Juan Pablo Cárdenas, Chile
1986 Anthony Heard, South Africa
1985 Joaquin Roces, Philippines
1982 P. Joaquin Chamorro Barrios, Nicaragua
1981 José Javier Uranga, Spain
1980 Jacobo Timerman, Argentina
1979 Claude Bellanger (posthumous), France
1978 Donald Woods, Percy Qoboza, South Africa
1977 Robert High Lilley, Northern Ireland
1976 Raul Régo, Portugal
1975 Sang-Man Kim, South Korea
1974 Julio de Mesquita Neto, Brazil
1973 Anton Betz, Germany
1972 Hubert Beuve-Méry, France
1970 Alberto Gainza Paz, Argentina
1969 The Czechoslovak press, Czechoslovakia
1968 Christos Lambrakis, Greece
1967 Mochtar Lubis, Indonesia
1966 Jules Dubois, USA
1965 Esmond Wickremesing, Sri Lanka
1964 Gabriel Makoto, Democratic Republic of the Congo
1963 Guardian Sein Win, Burma
1961 Ahmet Emin Yalman, Turkey


WAN-IFRA is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers. Based in Paris and Frankfurt, with regional offices in Chennai, Singapore, and Mexico City, its mission is to protect the rights of journalists across the world to operate free media, and provide its members with professional services to help their businesses prosper in a digital world and perform their crucial role in open societies. With formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe, it derives its authority from its global network of leading news publishing companies and technology entrepreneurs, and its legitimacy from its 80 national association members representing 18,000 publications in 120 countries.

Andrew Heslop

Executive Director, Press Freedom

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