Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Ching Cheong's trial reported to have begun

AGENCIES , BEIJING

Reporters wait outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court in yesterday. The trial of reporter Ching Cheong began at the court yesterday, Hong Kong Cable television and a human-rights activist said.

PHOTO: AP

The trial of a Hong Kong reporter arrested in China on spying charges began yesterday, Hong Kong Cable television and a human-rights activist said.

The news station said a duty officer at the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court confirmed that the trial of Ching Cheong (程翔), a China correspondent for the Straits Times, Singapore's largest newspaper, had started.

Frank Lu (盧四清), a Hong Kong-based human-rights activist, also said that the trial had begun, without citing a source.

A spokeswoman for the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court reached by telephone said it was "not convenient" for her to confirm whether Ching was scheduled to stand trial. She would only give her surname, Ren.

Chinese security agents picked up Ching on April 22 last year in Guangzhou.

Four months later, the official Xinhua news agency said he had been charged with spying for Taiwan. State media said Ching had confessed to setting up extensive espionage channels and selling classified state secrets -- especially military ones -- to Taiwan.

Ching's wife, Mary Lau (劉敏儀), and supporters insist the veteran journalist is innocent.

Telephone calls to Lau yesterday rang unanswered.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association took out a full-page ad yesterday in the newspaper Apple Daily voicing support for Ching. It said officials denied a request from Ching's family to attend the trial.

Serenade Woo (胡麗雲), the association's chairwoman, said the group would hold a candlelight vigil in support of Ching later yesterday and that Lau had taped a message to be broadcast then.

China is believed to have jailed more journalists than any other government, with 32 behind bars, mostly on charges of violating national security or subversion laws, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

A spokeswoman for the parent company of the Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings, said yesterday that the company had not received any notification of a confirmed date for the trial.

The spokeswoman, Carol Chow, said Ching's family was handling his legal issues, though the company had offered to help pay his legal fees.

China usually conducts trials involving espionage and state security in secret.

Ching was detained in southern Guangzhou where he had traveled to collect documents related to former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽).

Hong Kong Democratic Party Legislator Albert Ho (何俊仁) wrote an open letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), asking him to lobby Beijing to ensure Ching gets a fair trial.

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