Jimmy Lai receives Catholic University honorary degree while imprisoned

The Catholic University of America has honored Jimmy Lai, media mogul and pro-democracy advocate from Hong Kong, with an honorary degree while he is jailed for alleged violations of the National Security Law.

Students and faculty at The Catholic University of America bestowed an honorary degree on the 74-year-old entrepreneur in recognition of the faith and courage he has shown in his struggle for human rights in Hong Kong.

Lai’s son, Sebastien, accepted the degree on his father’s behalf. Speaking afterward, he said, “I’m sure he’ll be very happy to receive this award … knowing that all these people have the same thoughts towards freedom—and freedom of religion, freedom of expression—will make him incredibly happy.”

Lai was baptized in 1997 by Cardinal Zen, who, though 90 years of age, was also arrested in Hong Kong for supporting pro-democracy protesters. The Holy See press office has stated that it is watching the situation in Hong Kong “with concern” and “extreme attention.” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called on China to release those “unjustly detained and charged,” while U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell expressed concern over the “increasingly troubled steps [China] is taking in Hong Kong to pressure and eliminate civil society.”

Jimmy Lai came to Hong Kong at age 12 as a stowaway before finding work at a garment factory. From there, he rose to become a self-made success. He founded Giordano, a clothing retailer, as well as the Asian media giant Next Digital. Of particular importance, Lai founded the newspaper Apple Daily, one of the few pro-democracy newspapers in China.

He was among the first high-profile Hong Kongers arrested after the Chinese Communist Party tightened its grip on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong in 2020. By arresting people like Lai and Zen, the CCP only proves that truth and democracy are threats to authoritarianism.

When asked why he didn’t use his wealth and connections to flee Hong Kong after it became apparent that his newspaper and pro-democracy support was putting him in danger, Lai simply replied, “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 Hong Konger, the Acton Institute’s documentary on the life of Jimmy Lai, tells the story of his ongoing struggle against the growing power of the Hong Kong government. It is set to be released later in 2022.