In China, Hong Kong journalist sentenced to five years in prison

New York, August 31, 2006—A court in Beijing today sentenced Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, China correspondent for The Straits Times, to five years in prison on charges of spying for Taiwan. The Committee to Protect Journalists noted that authorities have not presented evidence that Ching committed any crime, and that his jailing appears to be a continuation of the worst crackdown on the media in China since the aftermath of the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court today announced the verdict following an August 15 trial that was closed to reporters, Ching’s employers, and his relatives. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the sentence included a year’s deprivation of political rights, and the confiscation of assets worth 300,000 yuan (US$37,719).

The veteran China correspondent had been jailed since April 2005 after he traveled to mainland China seeking transcripts of an interview with the ousted leader Zhao Ziyang, according to his wife Mary Lau. Zhao, who had criticized government actions against demonstrators at Tiananmen Square, had been under house arrest in Beijing until his death in January 2005.

Ching was found guilty of accepting under an alias 300,000 Hong Kong dollars from two members of an unnamed foundation in Taiwan that was purportedly an espionage organization, Xinhua News Agency reported. No evidence or supporting detail was disclosed.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said that the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was powerless to intervene in the case.

“The HKSAR government must respect the ’one country, two systems’ principle and does not interfere with the law enforcement and the judicial process on the mainland,” said Tsang at a press conference in Hong Kong today.

“We have still seen no evidence that Ching Cheong has committed a crime, and his jailing fits the Chinese government’s disgraceful tactic of using national security charges to jail troublesome journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are distressed by this verdict, which means that Ching will be in jail in Beijing when the world gathers for the Olympic Games in 2008.”

More than 30 journalists are currently jailed in China, most of them on national security or subversion charges, according to CPJ research.