New York, May 2, 2006—The trial of journalist Yang Xiaoqing has been set for May 10 in the county court of Longhui, in south central China’s Hunan province, the same county where Yang’s reporting exposed alleged graft among local officials, his wife and lawyer told CPJ today.
“It is ludicrous to think that Yang Xiaoqing could receive a fair trial in a court that is under the control of the same officials he embarrassed in his reports,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “If Yang has been jailed in retribution for his reporting, as it appears, then local officials in Longhui have overstepped their authority and the central government should intervene to ensure Yang’s immediate release.”
Yang, a reporter for China Industrial Economy News, was arrested in January and charged with extortion and blackmail after spending months in hiding following threats and intimidation by local officials, Yang’s wife Gong Jie told CPJ. Gong believes that her husband’s detention is connected to two articles he wrote in May 2005 alleging corruption in the sale of a state-owned company by county officials to private individuals.
Longhui County Communist Party secretary Yang Jianxin has denied that the reporter’s detention is related to his writing.
“His problem was not that he wrote the articles,” the Communist Party secretary told U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia in April. “It was that he used his articles to extort money.”
Authorities accused Yang of concocting reports in order to extort up to 800,000 Yuan (US$100,000) from Longhui county officials. But Yang’s colleagues stand by his reports.
The journalist’s lawyer Zhang Xingshui told CPJ that authorities have produced no evidence of their allegations. Zhang said that he does not believe that Yang can receive a fair trial in Longhui County. “The leaders of Longhui County are paying a lot of attention to this case,” he said.
Courts in China enjoy little independence, and are subject to the oversight of local Communist Party officials.
Gong, who is also a journalist, has launched an appeal for her husband’s release at www.gongjie520.sohu.blog.com.
China is the leading jailer of journalists worldwide, with 32 imprisoned at the end of 2005. Several of those journalists were jailed after embarrassing local officials by reporting on corruption, including Xinhua News Agency reporter Gao Qinrong, now serving a prison term of 12 years on charges including bribery, embezzlement and pimping after writing about a corrupt irrigation scheme.