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Freelance journalist He Yanjie given two-year sentence

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 19 May 2008 WAN letter to President Hu Jintao:

His Excellency President Hu Jintao
President of the People's Republic of China
Beijing, People's Republic of China

19 May 2008

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to express serious concern at the jailing of journalists Qi Chonghuai and He Yanjie, and the continued crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games.

According to reports, Mr Qi, who works for China Legal News in Shandong province, was sentenced to four years in prison for fraud and extortion on 13 May. Freelance journalist Mr He, who was a co-defendant in the trial, received a sentence of two years in prison. Access to the trial was limited, and reporters were not allowed to attend.

Mr Qi was detained on 25 June 2007 in his home in Jinan by police from the nearby city of Tengzhou. Mr Qi, Mr He and their friend, Ma Shiping, had published an article on a foreign-based website accusing a Tengzhou official of beating a woman for arriving late to work. They also posted photographs of a luxurious Tengzhou government building on the Xinhua news agency anti-corruption web forum.

Mr Qi and Mr He were accused of taking payments from local government officials while reporting several stories and charged with extortion on 2 August 2007. Mr Ma was detained on 16 June 2007 and remains in prison, although the status of his case has not been disclosed.

We are also seriously concerned that Mr Qi may have been violently assaulted by police while in detention. Mr Qi claims that two police officers hit his head against the floor during a break in the trial and that he was beaten while in prison in August 2007.

We respectfully remind you that the Organising Committee for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games issued the "Beijing Olympic Action Plan" in 2002, which laid out guiding principles and a series of promises as part of Beijing's preparation to be the host city. Specifically the Plan promised: "In the preparation for the Games, we will be open in every aspect to the rest of the country and the whole world. We will draw on the successful experience of others and follow the international standards and criteria."

In accordance with this pledge and numerous international conventions, declarations and agreements - including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - we call upon the Chinese authorities to free Mr Qi, Mr He, Mr Ma and all jailed journalists, writers and cyber-dissidents ahead of the Olympic Games. According to reports, at least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents are currently held in Chinese prisons.

We respectfully call on you to do everything possible to ensure that Mr Qi, Mr He, Mr Ma and all others detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression are immediately released from prison and that all charges against them are dropped. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of expression.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O'Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

George Brock
World Editors Forum

Updates the He Yanjie case:

For further information on the Qi Chonghuai, see:

For further information on the Ma Shiping case, see:

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