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Trials of Zhao Yan and Ching Cheong adjourned for lack of evidence

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders called for the urgent release of two journalists against whom it said there was "a crying lack of evidence" as both trials were separately adjourned on 22 February 2006.

The authorities agreed to a one-month adjournment of the trial of "New York Times" contributor Zhao Yan at the request of his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, so that the file could be re-examined.

The same day, the file of "The Straits Times" journalist Ching Cheong, who has been in prison since April 2005, was sent back to the State Security Department for a more thorough investigation.

The press freedom organisation also called on the international community to campaign for the two.

Mo, speaking for his client Zhao Yan, a 2005 Reporters Without Borders press freedom laureate, said, "We have asked the court of appeal for several witnesses to be brought to court as well as a revision of the conclusions of the investigation report."

He said he thought the journalist's trial would begin before 20 March, even though no date had yet been confirmed.

Zhao has been under arrest since 20 October 2004 for "divulging state secrets" and "fraud". He is falsely accused of having revealed the political retirement of Jiang Zemin to his newspaper before the official announcement.

On the same day, the prosecutor in charge of the case of Hong Kong journalist, Ching Cheong, decided to send his file back to the State Security Department for it to produce further evidence. This step means the trial will be delayed for at least one month.

"In the Zhao Yan and Ching Cheong cases, the authorities, and in particular the State Security Department, seem to be having the greatest difficulty in demonstrating the guilt of the accused," said Reporters Without Borders.

Paul Lai, spokesman for the journalist's campaign group of friends and former colleagues, said he thought it was a good sign that the file had been sent back to State Security. However it did not at all mean that it would not come back to court, he added.

For the time being, the journalist has refused to sign the investigation report prepared by State Security, and his detention without trial is a violation of Chinese legal procedure.

First held on 22 April 2005 and placed under arrest on 5 August, he is accused of spying for Taiwan. He faces life imprisonment for "endangering national security."

Reporters Without Borders supports the initiative of Hong Kong lawmakers, including Allen Lee, to take Ching Cheong's case before the National People's Congress, which is to be held in Beijing in March.

The organisation has also jointly launched a petition for his release in conjunction with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA). It has already been signed by more than ten thousand people.

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