Journalists’ sentences reduced

New York, June 15, 2004—Two editors from the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily), received reduced prison sentences on appeal at the Intermediate People’s Court in Guangzhou, in the southern Guangdong Province, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Yu Huafeng, Nanfang Dushi Bao deputy editor in chief and general manager, had his prison sentence on embezzlement charges reduced from 12 to eight years. Li Minying, former Nanfang Dushi Bao editor, received a six-year prison sentence, down from 11 years, for accepting bribes. A third editor from the newspaper, the editor in chief, Cheng Yizhong, remains in detention. Cheng has now been formally charged with corruption, according to press reports.

Nanfang Dushi Bao, a popular and successful daily, is known for its aggressive investigative coverage of sensitive subjects. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) believes the newspaper was targeted for reporting on a SARS outbreak in Guangzhou in December 2003 and for breaking the news that college student Sun Zhigang was beaten to death in March 2003 while being held in police custody in Guangzhou.

On Jan. 6, 2004, security officials detained Cheng for eight hours and questioned him about financial irregularities at the paper. The reporter who covered the SARS case was also put “under investigation.” Yu and Li were arrested the following week. Guangdong Province security agents arrested Cheng again while he was visiting Sichuan Province on March 19.

On March 19, the Dongshan District Court in Guangzhou convicted Yu of embezzling 580,000 yuan (US$70,000) of public funds and distributing it to members of the paper’s editorial committee. The court also accused Yu of paying Li 800,000 yuan (US$97,000) in bribes while Li was editor of Nanfang Dushi Bao. Li was convicted of accepting bribes totaling 970,000 yuan (US$117,000).

The defense maintains that the money in question was acquired legally and was used for routine bonuses for staff members.

“We condemn these sentences and call for the immediate release of Yu, Li, and Cheng,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ executive director. “Authorities are abusing the law to silence critical voices and punishing these brave journalists as a warning to others.”