Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Activists blast China for groundless imprisonment

AP , BEIJING

Press freedom activists yesterday criticized the Chinese government for imprisoning a Hong Kong reporter as a spy, rejecting the charges against him as unfounded and calling the verdict appalling.

A Beijing court on Thursday sentenced Ching Cheong (程翔), a reporter for the Straits Times newspaper of Singapore, to five years in prison on charges of spying for rival Taiwan.

"This sentence is appalling," the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "Ching was tried in an unacceptable way on baseless charges."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Chinese authorities failed to present evidence that Ching committed a crime.

"His jailing appears to be a continuation of the worst crackdown on the media in China since the aftermath of the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989," the New York-based group said.

Ching's conviction came a week after a Chinese researcher for the New York Times was acquitted of espionage charges but jailed for three years on a fraud claim.

Ching was detained in April last year during a visit to China, and for months the government released little information, prompting an outcry by Hong Kong journalists and press freedom groups.

In one of the first official explanations of the government's case, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said that Ching was convicted for selling unspecified "state secrets and intelligence" to a Taiwanese foundation that was really a spy agency.

Xinhua said Ching contacted the foundation, which it didn't name, while working as a reporter in Taiwan.

Ching plans to appeal, said Paul Lai, a member of a Hong Kong support group.

President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) government has engaged in a sustained effort to tighten control over media and information, seeing a more aggressive, freewheeling press as a threat to its authority.

Dozens of Chinese journalists and Internet essayists have been jailed, often on charges of violating vague secrecy or security laws.

Allegations of spying for Taiwan are common. Both sides maintain robust espionage operations against the other.

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