Acton Institute Powerblog

Jimmy Lai receives Catholic University honorary degree while imprisoned

(Image credit: Catholic University of America)

The honorary degree from Catholic University of America, which comes while Jimmy Lai sits in a Hong Kong prison awaiting a third trial on charges under the city’s so-called National Security Law, was accepted by Lai’s son Sebastien Lai. […]

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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.

Eric Kohn

Eric Kohn is director of marketing and communications at the Acton Institute. In that role, he works to bring Acton's vision of a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles to a wider audience. Prior to joining Acton, Eric was director of community management at the Illinois Policy Institute, one of the nation's premier state-based think tanks. He was also the founder and CEO of Curious Task Strategies, a public affairs consulting firm. For more than 10 years, Eric led the Chicago chapter of America’s Future Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing the next generation of classical liberal leaders in Chicago. From 2019 to 2021, Eric co-hosted Sources with Knowledge along with Joe Kaiser on News/Talk 560 The Answer in Chicago. He previously hosted The Eric Kohn Program on 1530-AM WJJG, and has guest-hosted the nationally syndicated The Guy Benson Show, Illinois Watchdog Radio on Cities 92.9FM in Bloomington-Normal, and Chicago’s Morning Answer on News/Talk 560 The Answer. He has appeared as a guest host and commentator on Beyond the Beltway with Bruce DuMont, Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg, The Michael Koolidge Show, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, and numerous news broadcasts in the Chicagoland area. Eric’s writings have appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Detroit News, the Belleville News-Democrat, and other publications. Eric grew up in Belleville, Ill., and is a graduate of Millikin University in Decatur, Ill. He lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., with his wife and two children.