Reporters Without Borders expressed dismay at the severity of a ten-year prison sentence imposed on journalist Shi Tao on 30 April and appealed for leniency from judges at an appeal that Shi said he would lodge within the 12 days allowed under law.
The worldwide press freedom organisation said the trial before the intermediate people’s court in Changsha, Hunan Province in central China, had been riddled with irregularities.
And a member of his family told Reporters Without Borders that Shi had been devastated by the harshness of the sentence pronounced by Judge Ouyang Hua.
The journalist’s lawyer Guo Guoting had been banned from exercising his profession and procedural deadlines were flouted. The closed-doors trial ended on 11 March but the verdict was delivered more than one and a half months later, while Chinese law lays down a maximum delay of two weeks.
Shi Tao, 37, of the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News) published in Hunan, was found guilty of "leaking state secrets abroad". The prosecutor Su Shuang had called for a heavy sentence on the basis of reports from the State Security Department.
Shi was accused of posting on foreign-based websites an internal message the authorities had sent to his newspaper warning journalists of the dangers of social destabilisation and the risks associated with the return of some dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. During the trial, state security confirmed that the message was "Jue Mi" (top secret). Shi admitted that he had sent it on but contested that it was secret in nature.
The journalist was also sentenced to two years deprivation of his civil and political rights.
He is still being held in prison in Changsha where he was sent after his arrest in Taiyuan in the north-east on 24 November 2004. His mother and his youngest brother were able to see him for a few minutes as the verdict was announced. They said he was in good physical health but devastated by his imprisonment.