New York, May 2, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists today denounced the unfair trial and harsh sentencing of journalist Shi Tao, who was convicted of “illegally providing state secrets to foreigners” in a closed trial in the Intermediate People’s Court of Changsha in central China’s Hunan Province. Shi was sentenced on Saturday to 10 years in prison.
“Our colleague Shi Tao was tried under laws that preclude the full participation of legal counsel and do not meet the standards of international law,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We are appalled by his 10-year sentence, and call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
Shi is a former reporter at Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Trade News), a magazine based in Changsha. Officials from the Changsha security bureau detained Shi near his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, on November 24, 2004. Authorities confiscated his computer and other documents and warned his family to stay quiet about the matter.
On December 14, authorities issued a formal arrest order charging Shi with “leaking state secrets.”
Defense lawyer Tong Wenzhong was never granted access to the contents of the “state secrets” that Shi was accused of leaking, said Shi Hua, the journalist’s brother. Tong was told only the title of the material, and its government designation as “secret.” Nevertheless, Tong entered a guilty plea on Shi’s behalf on March 11 trial.
The government-run Xinhua News Agency reported that Shi had been found guilty of posting online his notes regarding a government document read to the Dangdai Shang Bao editorial board in April 2004. Xinhua reported that prosecutors told the court that the contents were classified, and that Shi’s notes had been picked up by several overseas Web sites.
Sources have told CPJ that the document was a Central Propaganda Department directive issued to editors on April 20, 2004, the contents of which are widely available in Chinese-language news Web sites based outside of China. The document’s summary lists particular areas of concern to the government. It warns of the return of overseas dissidents to China to mark the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations on June 4, 1989.
Chinese journalists are not free to report independently on the events of the spring of 1989. Coverage of this and other politically sensitive issues is circumscribed by routine directives issued by the Central Propaganda Department, which are made available only to news editors.
Shortly before Shi’s trial, Guo Guoting, who was originally set to act as Shi’s defense lawyer, received notice that his license to practice law had been suspended. Guo told CPJ at the time that he believed the punitive action was related to the lawyer’s defense of controversial freedom of expression cases like Shi’s. He had intended to argue that while Shi has admitted to posting the material from the April 2004 editorial meeting online, he was not guilty because the material should not have been classified as a state secret.
Chinese laws regarding state secrets are vague and broadly worded, and have been used in the past to silence reporting on sensitive issues.
With 42 journalists in prison on December 31, China was the leading jailer of journalists for the sixth consecutive year in 2004.