Wed, Feb 06, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Lu Gengsong sentenced to jail, Ching Cheong freed

AGENCIES , BEIJING, HONG KONG AND TAIPEI

Ching Cheong, reporter for the Singapore-based Straits Times newspaper, is pictured in this undated photo received on May 31, 2005.

PHOTO: AFP

China yesterday sentenced writer and cyber-dissident Lu Gengsong (呂耿松) to four years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power," his lawyer said.

The Intermediate People's Court in Huangzhou announced the verdict over Lu, a prolific writer on corruption, yesterday morning, his lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平) said by telephone.

"We decided beforehand that if he was sentenced we would appeal, so that's definitely what we'll do," Mo said.

The former lecturer's wife, daughter and two friends were present when the verdict was read at the end of a 15-minute court session, rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a statement.

BARRED

Police barred other supporters and friends from attending the verdict by either putting them under house arrest or preventing them from entering the courtroom, the group said.

Lu, a 51-year-old freelance writer who was formally arrested in September, has published extensively on graft, including the book Corrupted Officials in China, which appeared in Hong Kong in 2000.

He is also known for disclosing a large number of illegal eviction cases, supporters said.

Lu's arrest was seen by rights groups as part of a major crackdown on dissent amid growing social unrest despite China's pledge to ease curbs on media and individual freedoms ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a report in August that at least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents were being detained in China for work that angered Chinese authorities.

RELEASED

Also yesterday, China freed a Hong Kong-based reporter for a Singaporean newspaper jailed for five years for allegedly spying for Taiwan after intense lobbying from activists and politicians for clemency ahead of the Olympics.

Ching Cheong (程翔), reportedly in poor health since his detention in 2005 and whose family had pushed for an early release on medical grounds, was expected in Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, a Hong Kong official said.

"We have informed Ching Cheong's family about his release," Susana Kwong, principal information officer for the Chief Executive's office said. But she said the conditions of the release were not clear.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) "was particularly happy to see Ching could reunite with his family before the Lunar New Year," she said.

Ching, a reporter for Singa-pore's Straits Times newspaper, was detained in April 2005 and later sentenced to five years in jail in a high-profile case underscoring the country's curbs on the media and dissent. Beijing says strict controls are necessary to preserve stability.

Calls from around the world had persisted for Ching's early release, many citing China's express intention of fostering a more open media environment.

"I wouldn't say it's a surprise, but this news has definitely come all of a sudden," said Mak Chai-ming (麥齊明), a spokeswoman for the Ching Cheong Incident Concern Group.

REACTION

Taipei welcomed the release yesterday and called for Beijing to lift all restrictions on the media and free speech.

"Like Mr Ching, many other people have been put under surveillance and house arrest or detained clandestinely by Chinese authorities for covering news or for seeking freedom of speech,'' the Mainland Affairs Council said.

"China has hoped to nurture an image corresponding with that of a rising power," the council said in a statement. "We urge the international community to push the Chinese authorities to remove their control of news and freedom of speech at an early date."

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