China: Beijing court denies open hearing in Ching Cheong appeal

New York, October 30, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Chinese authorities’ denial of an open appeal hearing in the espionage case of Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter for The Straits Times sentenced to five years in prison in August. Instead, the court will review documents behind closed doors before ruling on Ching’s appeal.

“We believe the Chinese authorities have failed to prove their case, and therefore we are extremely disappointed that they have refused to grant an open appeal hearing,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The government’s treatment of this case has only confirmed our impression that Ching has been targeted for his work as a journalist and that the charges of espionage against him are unsustainable.”

Ching was detained in Guangzhou in April 2005 while attempting to meet with a source to obtain interviews of the late ousted leader Zhao Ziyang. He was held under house arrest in Beijing without access to a lawyer or his family until a formal arrest order was issued in August 2005 on espionage charges.

Specific allegations against him were not made clear until after his trial in a closed hearing in Beijing on August 15, 2006. On August 31, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court convicted Ching of espionage and sentenced him to five years in prison, plus an additional year’s deprivation of political rights.

The verdict in the case later appeared online and was published by several Hong Kong newspapers. The document accused Ching of accepting around 300,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$ 38,600) (not millions of Hong Kong dollars as first reported by the official Xinhua News Agency) in fees to submit classified reports on political affairs, economics, and international relations for a Taiwan-based organization called the Foundation of International and Cross-Strait Studies, which authorities said was a cover for a Taiwanese intelligence organization. Prosecutors said that Ching had met two representatives from the organization at a current events conference, and had done research for them.

In his defense, Ching argued that he had no knowledge that the organization was a front for Taiwanese intelligence, a charge the foundation itself has strongly denied, and had provided no state secrets.