May 12, 2022
Students listen to someone speak at their Commencement ceremony

Jimmy Lai’s son, Sebastien, will accept award for his father days after Hong Kong authorities arrest Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen

The Catholic University of America will bestow an honorary degree in absentia on imprisoned Hong Kong media executive Jimmy Lai during the University’s commencement on Saturday, May 14. 

Lai, a Catholic and the pro-democracy founder of Next magazine and Apple Daily newspaper, has been arrested several times and imprisoned since April 2021. He was the first high-profile individual charged under a new national security law in Hong Kong, reportedly for collusion with foreign powers. Apple Daily, raided last year by government officials, has been shuttered. 

The honor of Lai by Catholic University comes just days after Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 90-year-old archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong and outspoken advocate for human rights and religious freedom in China, was detained by Hong Kong’s national security forces. Cardinal Zen baptized Jimmy Lai in 1997.

Vatican News, citing local sources, reported that Cardinal Zen was charged on Wednesday with “‘collusion with foreign forces,’ in connection with his role as administrator of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, a fund that supported pro-democracy protesters in paying for the legal and medical expenses they faced.” He was freed after his arrest. 

Jimmy Lai was born in Canton (Guangzhou), China in 1947. He entered Hong Kong as a stowaway at the age of 12 and began work as a child laborer in a garment factory. He worked his way up to become a prominent media executive. His Catholic faith was instrumental in his decision to remain in Hong Kong and fight for democracy, saying, “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.”

Information about The Catholic University of America’s 2022 commencement is here.