Releases in China cautiously welcomed

New York, February 11, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of imprisoned journalist Yu Huafeng on Friday after his sentence was reduced, but remains concerned about conditions for critical reporters in China.  

Yu’s appeal lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, confirmed the release in an e-mail to CPJ. The deputy editor-in-chief and general manager of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News), Yu was detained along with a colleague in 2004 after his newspaper published a story about a suspected SARS case in Guangzhou and given a 12-year sentence for corruption.

“We are glad that Yu Huafeng was able to enjoy Chinese New Year festivities at home,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We’d like to encourage Chinese authorities to release the other 25 journalists it holds behind bars so that China can surrender its title as the world’s leading jailer of journalists before the Beijing Olympics.”

Two other journalists imprisoned in China, Li Changqing and Yue Tianxiang, were released in the past two months on completing their sentences. Li’s lawyer Mo Shaoping told CPJ that his client, the deputy news director of Fuzhou Ribao (Fuzhou Daily) in Fujian province, was released on February 2.

Yue Tianxiang, who was imprisoned in Gansu province for publishing a labor rights journal in 1999, was freed on January 8 after his initial 10-year sentence was reduced in 2005, according to the Dui Hua Foundation.

Mo Shaoping, a veteran defense lawyer based in Beijing, told CPJ that he did not take the recent releases as encouraging signs for journalists. Lü Gengsong, who is also represented by Mo, was sentenced to four years imprisonment on subversion charges on February 5.

“There has been no reduction in cases where subversion charges are brought against people for articles they have written,” Mo told CPJ. “If anything, these cases have increased in the past one or two years.”

Straits Times journalist Ching Cheong, was released unexpectedly on the same day Lu was sentenced last week. Just before he was let out, his wife, Mary Lau, asked CPJ and other organizations to push for his release on grounds of his deteriorating health.

CPJ’s online petition invites members of the public to urge China to address its press freedom record before the 2008 Olympics.