Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) voiced outrage at yesterday’s decision by an appeal court in Guangzhou to maintain long prison terms for two former executives of the liberal daily Nanfang Dushi Bao, general manager Yu Huafeng and managing editor Li Minying, although it reduced the length of the terms imposed by a lower court.
The case continues to be marred by irregularities and political pressure, Reporters Without Borders said. The organisation also protested against the continuing detention of the daily’s former editor Cheng Yizhong, who has been held by the police without being charged since 20 March.
On appeal, the Guangzhou intermediate court reduced Yu’s prison sentence from 12 to eight years, and Li’s from 11 to six years. After the judges issued their ruling, Yu said responded: "You can manipulate the law, but not history." He intends to appeal again to the Guangzhou high court.
Reporters Without Borders said it was disgraceful to see an appeal court repeat point by point the arguments made in the lower court’s verdict, which had been crude and manipulated by the local authorities. The organisation added it hoped the high court would receive the appeal which Yu’s lawyer intended to file.
"All the facts of his case need to be re-examined," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter addressed to China’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York. "Sentences of six and eight years in prison for crimes of opinion are indefensible and contrary to the international undertakings given by the People’s Republic of China."
The government news agency Xinhua quoted the judges as saying: "The first verdicts were based on clear facts and real evidence. The verdict punished the crime and the judicial procedure was legal. But the punishment was relatively heavy."
The journalists’ defence lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, insisted on his clients’ innocence. "We all think it was a miscarriage of injustice," he said. He reported that his law firm’s website, www.oci.org.cn, had been blocked by the authorities during the week preceding the hearing. He also deplored the news blackout about the case in the Chinese press.
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.