Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked by the lack of independence of China’s courts and urged European governments to react after a ten-year jail sentence was upheld against journalist Shi Tao for "illegally stealing state secrets abroad".
Shi Tao was shown no mercy by Judge Yang Xueshing of the Hunan Supreme Court in southern China, even though he acknowledged posting articles on the Internet but said he had no intention of jeopardising state security.
The journalist, aged 37, of Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News) in Hunan province, was accused of posting on a foreign-based website 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.
The Supreme Court refused to heed defence arguments that the article put online by Shi was not a state secret. His lawyer insisted that his client’s actions had in no way endangered China’s security.
The prosecutor stressed that Shi had put the country’s security at risk and in exchange for "payment". Sending articles abroad via the Internet was a crime punishable by a prison sentence, he repeated.
"It is staggering to see the lack of independence of Chinese courts, even at the level of the Supreme Court, which only applies the orders of the political police" said Reporters Without Borders. It urged European governments, some of whom have put Shi Tao’s name on their list of prisoners of opinion in China, to step up calls for his release.
Shi Tao is serving his sentence in Changsha Prison in Hunan Province. He was sentenced to ten years by Changsha’s intermediate people’s court on 30 April. He was also deprived of his civil and political rights for two years.