Court upholds 10-year sentence for journalist Shi Tao

New York, June 30, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the Hunan Supreme People’s Court decision to uphold the conviction of journalist Shi Tao on charges of “illegally leaking state secrets abroad.” The ruling makes it more likely that Shi will serve out the bulk of a 10-year prison sentence for e-mailing to the editor of a news Web site his notes about propaganda officials’ instructions to his magazine.

“We are outraged that the Chinese government considers dissemination of information about its propaganda strategy to be a form of espionage,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Chinese authorities to release Shi and end the practice of jailing journalists.”

In a verdict dated June 2, the court rejected the appeal filed by Shi’s defense lawyer, Mo Shaoping, in early May, according to a court document obtained by the Chinese Rights Defenders, an advocacy group. The journalist was not given a hearing in the appeal, which was submitted in writing.

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.” On April 27, 2005, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court found Shi guilty and sentenced him to a 10-year prison term.

Shi, 36, is a poet and journalist who served as editorial director of Dangdai Shang Bao, a magazine based in Changsha, Hunan province. On April 20, 2004, he e-mailed to a U.S.-based online editor, Cary Hung, his notes from the Propaganda Bureau’s instructions to the magazine regarding the return of overseas dissidents to China to mark the 15th anniversary last year of the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.

Cary Hung is editor of the New York-based Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum), a dissident news Web site that is banned in China, and Minzhu Tongxun (Democracy Communication), an e-mail-based information network. Shi’s notes were distributed through Minzhu Tongxun and later posted on other Web sites.

Shi had written articles for Minzhu Luntan and received payment for his work. Though Hung has clarified that he did not pay Shi for the notes from his editorial meeting, other payments that Shi received from Hung was used as evidence of selling state secrets.

In refusing to overturn the earlier verdict, the court argued that the 10-year sentence handed to the journalist was a light one, considering the charge.

Similar state secrets and espionage allegations have been used to imprison two other journalists in the last year, including New York Times researcher Zhao Yan and Hong Kong-based Straits Times reporter Ching Cheong.