China: Journalist tried on charges of spreading false information

New York, January 19, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the prosecution of Chinese journalist Li Changqing, who went on trial today on charges of “deliberately fabricating and spreading false and alarmist information,” defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said.

The charges stemmed from a report on an outbreak of dengue fever on banned news Web site Boxun News but Li’s colleagues said that authorities also targeted him for writing in support of whistleblower Huang Jingao, according to The Washington Post.

“We condemn the prosecution of Li Changqing and call for his immediate release,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Far from committing any crime, Li has consistently demonstrated great integrity and bravery in reporting on topics of concern to the public, including corruption and public health issues that local authorities wished to control.”

Li, deputy news director of Fuzhou Daily, was arrested in February 2005 in connection with an investigation of whistleblower Huang Jingao, a Communist Party official in Fujian province who wrote an open letter to the state-run People’s Daily in 2004 denouncing corruption among local officials, according to news reports.

Huang won public support after describing death threats that he said forced him to wear a bulletproof vest. But in November 2005 he was convicted of accepting bribes and sentenced to life in prison. Supporters said that the charges against Huang were politically motivated.

Li, whom authorities accused of helping to write Huang’s open letter and who publicly supported Huang in newspaper and online articles, was initially charged with inciting subversion. That charge was later dropped and authorities filed a new charge related to an October 13, 2004 report in the U.S.-based Chinese-language Web site Boxun News.

Boxun reported on Wednesday it had received an anonymous report on an outbreak of dengue fever, a viral, mosquito-borne disease, in Fuzhou.

The author, identified by his lawyer as Li, reported more than 20 cases, according to Boxun. But the Web site increased the number to 100 cases after doing its own research. Days after the Boxun report official media confirmed 30 cases in Fujian province. The Chinese government has previously been criticized for withholding information on public health issues.

Li plead not guilty in today’s trial, his lawyer told CPJ.

China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to CPJ research.