Jimmy Lai could not accept the honor bestowed on him Tuesday morning at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
The 73-year-old Lai, who converted to Roman Catholicism a quarter-century ago, is in a Hong Kong prison for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government, its Communist Party and its iron grip on the region since July 1997.
Arrested in April 2020 and convicted of violating the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese, Lai was sentenced in April 2021 to 14 more months for ''organizing illegal protests.''
Prison life is about as far removed from Lai's life as any could be. The founder of the clothing retailer Giordano launched a successful newspaper, Apple Daily. He also started a media company known as Next Digital and has long been an active art collector.
In accepting the award for Lai, journalist Bill McGurn, formerly top speechwriter in the George W. Bush White House and godfather to Lai when he became Catholic, told the standing-room-only crowd that the dissident could have easily fled to ''his apartments in London, Paris or Taipai. (Lai has a British passport.)
''But instead,'' McGurn said, he chose to remain in Hong Kong and face certain imprisonment — something Lai calls ''the pinnacle of his own life.''
Sustained by his wife, Theresa (''Each trusts each other absolutely''), McGurn said, ''Jimmy is reading the classics of the faith when he is not working at this prison job folding envelopes.''
In fact, he revealed, Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong is getting annoyed because ''he has to bone up on his theology because every time he visits Jimmy in prison, Jimmy has more questions about the faith.''
McGurn made no prediction regarding the faith of his friend and godson. But he did tell the audience that when they are told that prayer is a waste of time, just think of Jimmy Lai, ''because your prayers are what is keeping him alive.''
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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