Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Reporter sentenced over stories

SECURITY The journalist is shocked that it was illegal to report in his newspaper information the defense minister was allowed to freely give the legislature

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taiwan High Court yesterday sentenced Taiwan Daily News military affairs reporter Hung Tsi-cheng (洪哲政) to 18 months in jail for breaching national security.

The sentence was, however, suspended for three years.

"Hung's violation is supposed to earn a sentence of between three and 10 years in jail," said the presiding judge, Tsai Yung-chang (蔡永昌).

"However, the court took into consideration his lack of any prior criminal record and that he was merely doing his job as a reporter when he broke the law. As a result, we decided to sentence him to 18 months with a three-year probation," Tsai said.

If Hung is not convicted on any other charge during the three year probation period, the 18 month sentence will be dropped.

After the trial, Hung said that he was very disappointed at the result and would definitely appeal.

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法), Hung has 10 days to appeal so after he receives the verdict.

"Honestly, I was planning to protest for press freedom by going to jail," said Hung. "However, the court decided that I am guilty but did not give me a chance to be jailed. To me, this is a great humiliation."

Hung never admitted to the offence he was charged with after he was indicted for violating the Statute for Punishment of Betrayal of Military Secrets (妨害軍機治罪條例) by Taiwan High Court Prosecutor Lee Chin-ding (李金定) in September last year. During the last hearing on July 11 this year, he still insisted that he did not breach national security in his news stories.

Hung's trouble, and subsequent conviction, arose from two stories he wrote for the now defunct Power Evening News about the 16th Han Kuang military exercise in 2000.

The two articles, published on May 19 and July 29, were about the sighting of three Chinese military survey vessels off Taiwan's eastern coast two days before the May 20 presidential inauguration. They were considered by the military to have compromised national security.

Former army major Liu Chih-chung (劉持中), who attended the Political Warfare College with Hung, was taken into custody by military police on Aug. 31 on charges of leaking secrets to Hung.

Liu was also charged of breaching national security and was sentenced to 26 months in jail by a military court. He completed his sentence last year, retired from the army and is now working for a private company in the computer sector.

Hung's criticism of the court ruling was also endorsed by the Association of Taiwan Journalists (台灣新聞記者協會). In a press release yesterday, the association said that Hung's conviction will deter reporters from covering sensitive issues.

"The minister of national defense was allowed to make public that Chinese vessels skirted Taiwan's eastern coast when he was questioned by lawmakers at the Legislative Yuan. But, a reporter is not allowed to report the same thing or the reporter will be found guilty [of breaking the law]. This is what we called unjust," the press release said.

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