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China Sentences HK Journalist to 5 Years in Jail
Ching Cheong convicted of spying for Taiwan
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-01 01:12 (KST)   
When it comes to choking off press freedoms in China, if the private sector fails then leave it to the government to complete the job. Just as celebrations were erupting over Taiwanese-based iPod manufacturer Foxconn's decision to climb down from pressing libel charges against two Shanghai-based journalists early on Thursday, news broke that a high court in Beijing had sentenced Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong to 5 years in jail for spying.

According to the state-run news agency Xinhua, Ching has also been stripped of political rights for one year and personal property worth 300,000 yuan (US$37,500) has been confiscated. This sum is the amount the court found he had received while spying for Taiwan.

Ching, who worked for the Singapore daily Straits Times and held a British National Overseas (BNO) passport, is the first Hong Kong journalist to have been charged with spying since China regained control of the territory in 1997. The verdict is rare case of a foreign news correspondent being sentenced to a jail term in China and bodes ill for the plight of foreign journalists during the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The maximum penalty for espionage in China is death. According to Xinhua, the sentence was mitigated because Ching confessed to other spying activities authorities were unaware of while being detained. As is frequently the practice in China, no information has been released about what occurred in the courtroom and no independent body has verified if any evidence presented was legitimate or if torture was used to obtain it.

Ching's wife, journalist Mary Lau Man-yee, and his supporters in Hong Kong have consistently denied the charges and they plan to appeal the verdict. James Lung Wai-man, spokesman for the Hong Kong-based Rescue Ching Cheong Alliance, told Agence France-Presse, "We think it's very unfair, because from the beginning to the end nobody knew what happened."

In April 2005, Ching was detained by Chinese authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou for trying to obtain recordings of secret interviews with former Chinese prime minister Zhao Ziyang. Zhao opposed the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and was subsequently placed under house arrest until the day he died in January 2005.

Ching's case is the latest involving journalists that show the extent of China's crackdown on the media. It comes just days after Zhao Yan, a Chinese national and former New York Times researcher in Beijing, was acquitted of allegedly leaking state secrets but still jailed for three years on a fraud charge.
The author's Web site is alldaybliss.com
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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