Hong Kong, February 5, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about today’s nearly simultaneous sentencing of Chinese journalist Lü Gengsong and the unexpected release on parole of veteran Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong.
“While CPJ welcomes Ching Cheong’s release after nearly three years behind bars, the goodwill was dissipated by Lü Gengsong’s prison sentence,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “China must stop sending journalists to jail because it does not like their reporting. As the Olympics approach, it is time for China to show that it can abide by international standards of press freedom and release the 28 reporters it holds in jail.”
Ching was sentenced to five years for allegedly spying for Taiwan in August 2006, following a one-day trial which took place more than a year after his arrest in April 2005. No reason was given for his release, but his wife, Mary Lau, had told CPJ that his health was deteriorating under the stress of his imprisonment, and that he was suffering from arrhythmia. The Hong Kong government has confirmed that the couple is in Hong Kong.
Lü’s sentencing today by the Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou was expected, after his one-day, closed-door trail on January 22. He was given four years for “inciting the subversion of state power.”
The freelance journalist has been held in a detention center and denied family visits since his arrest on August 24, 2007. A strong populist who openly criticized corrupt officials, Lü had written several articles for overseas Web sites and reported on the trial of a human rights defender the day before he was arrested. Only his wife and daughter and two friends attended today’s sentencing, his wife Wang Xue’e told CPJ. She was not allowed to speak to her husband during the brief 10-minute period he was in the court room, she said.
Lü’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, did not attend the sentencing, but told CPJ he will lodge an appeal with the Zhejiang High Court within the next 10 days, according to Chinese law.
CPJ’s newly published report lists China as the world’s leading jailer of journalists for the ninth consecutive year in 2007. Lü Gengsong is one of 18 journalists imprisoned in China who worked online.
CPJ also invites members of the public to urge China to free imprisoned journalists by signing on to an online petition launched last week.