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IFEX MEMBERS URGE RELEASE OF DETAINED REPORTER

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) led eight other IFEX members and more than 400 local journalists last week in demanding the release of reporter Ching Cheong, who has been detained in mainland China for a year on charges of spying.

In an open letter published in Hong Kong's "Ming Pao" and "Apple" newspapers on 22 April 2006 - the first anniversary of the journalist's detention - the supporters said Ching Cheong was being wrongfully detained because authorities had produced no evidence of his alleged wrongdoing.

The letter was signed by the following IFEX members: HKJA, Cartoonists Rights Network, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the Independent Journalism Center, the International Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, Journalists' Trade Union, Reporters Without Borders and the World Press Freedom Committee.

A reporter for Singapore's "Straits Times", Ching Cheong was arrested on 22 April 2005 while on his way to the city of Guangzhou. Several sources have said he was seeking documents about former Communist Party Secretary General Zhao Ziyang, who died in 2005. Zhao had been under house arrest since 1989 for opposing the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

On 31 May, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement that said: "Ching Cheong has admitted that he followed instructions from foreign intelligence agencies in recent years, undertook intelligence gathering activities in China and received large amounts for his spying expenses."

In August, Ching Cheong was formally arrested on spying charges. The case was handed over to prosecutors in December, and then sent to the ministry for review in February 2006.

If convicted, Ching Cheong faces a possible death sentence.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that China often uses national security as a pretext for jailing journalists who are doing nothing more than practising their trade. Broad and vaguely defined "state secrets" laws have been a tool for sentencing journalists to lengthy prison terms for exposing information that has not been officially vetted, regardless of whether the disclosures threaten national security.

Two other journalists have been imprisoned on similar allegations in the past year. Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years after being convicted of leaking state secrets for sharing his notes from a Chinese propaganda department memo with an overseas magazine. The memo gave instructions on gathering information and covering the return of overseas dissidents to mark the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Another journalist, "New York Times" researcher Zhao Yan, has been detained without trial since September 2004 on suspicion of leaking state secrets abroad. While the charge was dropped last month, it is not clear whether Zhao will be released.

See:
- HKJA: http://www.hkja.org.hk/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=17305
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/op_ed/kjones14june05.html
- South China Morning Post: http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article-eastasia.asp?parentid=43926
- Shi Tao Case: http://iso.hrichina.org/public/highlight/index.html
- Zhao Yan Case: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/18/world/asia/18zhao.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
- China's Controlled Coverage:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/asia/jan-june06/china_4-21.html

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