A Guangzhou appeal court has reduced prison sentences against managers of Nanfang Dushi Bao Yu Huafeng and Li Minying. Yu Huafeng, former general manager, was sentenced to eight years in prison, against 12 years imposed by the lower court. He is planning a further appeal. Li, a former editor, had his sentenced reduced from 11 to six years. The judges, quoted by the official Xinhua news agency, said the "first verdicts were based on clear facts and solid evidence. The verdict fitted the crime and the court procedure legal, but the punishment was relatively heavy." The lawyer for the journalists, Xu Zhiyong, however said: "We all believe that this is an injustice." Police in Guangzhou continue to hold former Nanfang Dushi Bao editor Cheng Yizhong, without trial in connection with the same case.
Reporters Without Borders challenges Chinese prime minister about the case of daily Nanfang Dushi Bao
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) appealed to Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao to release three senior staff from the Chinese daily Nanfang Dushi Bao, including the celebrated journalist Cheng Yizhong.
The international press freedom organisation challenged the Chinese premier to publicly explain the prison sentences against them as he toured European countries (Germany, Belgium, Italy, Britain and Ireland). His tour is designed to boost dialogue and co-operation with the EU and to advocate China’s reform programme.
"One cannot come to Europe to defend reforms started in China while at the same time allowing three reforming journalists to be sentenced to heavy prison terms for publishing articles that upset the authorities," said Reporters Without Borders in a letter to Chinese embassies in countries visited by the premier.
The Nanfang Dushi Bao case damages the credibility of the Wen Jiabao government’s reform policy. The organisation also called on the governments of the European countries visited by Wen to raise the cases of the three journalists.
The organisation is pressing for the release of journalists Yu Huafeng, Li Minying and Cheng Yizhong and an end to legal action against the newspaper’s former bosses.
Since 20 March 2004, Cheng Yizhong, former editor-in-chief of Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News), has been imprisoned without sentence by public security in Guangzhou. On the eve of his arrest, a people’s court in Dongshan, Guangdong province, sentenced former general manager Yu Huafeng and former editor Li Minying, to 12 and 11 years respectively for "corruption" and "embezzlement of public funds".
The prosecutor said that Yu Huafeng had stolen 100,000 yuan (nearly 10,000 euros) from the paper and shared 480,000 yuan (nearly 47,000 euros) among senior staff at the newspaper, whose advertising revenue reached nearly 100 million euros in 2003.
The arrests were in fact linked to a series of investigations carried by the liberal Guangzhou newspaper, particularly on Sars and the death of a young graphic artist, Sun Zhigang, beaten to death in a Guangzhou police station. They were all sacked from the newspaper before being detained.
This conspiracy by the local authorities, including Guangzhou police chief, Zhu Suisheng, against this brave daily aims to foster a climate of fear among Chinese journalists. Reporters Without Borders has spoken to several of them. They described themselves as "crushed" and "terrified" by the arrests of the three journalists.