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China 18 January 2006

Three journalists get prison sentences after covering land dispute

Reporters Without Borders today called for the release of three journalists who have just been given heavy prison sentences after writing about illegal land confiscation in a magazine that had no official licence in the southeastern province of Zhejiang.

"While Liu Yunshan praises his publicity department (the former propaganda department) for having closed down 79 publications last year, the jail terms imposed on these three journalists serves as a reminder that the fight against pornography and intellectual piracy is often just a pretext," Reporters Without Borders said. "The crackdowns also target journalists whose only crime is to try to break out of the strait-jacket of political control."

Zhu Wanxiang, the editor of Zhonghua Xin Qingnian (New China Youth), and the chief editor, Wu Zhengyou, were yesterday given jail sentences of ten and six years respectively by a court in the district of Lishui. The third journalist, identified either as Pan Chunlei or Wang Xianyong, depending on the source, was sentenced to one year in prison.

A court official told Agence France-Presse they were convicted of "illegal commercial activity, fraud and extortion." Their crime was to have reported clashes in Lishui last May involving peasants who were protesting against the confiscation of their land. The peasants reportedly gave the newspaper 30,000 yuan (3,000 euros) in thanks for writing about their demands. The prosecutor used this as grounds to allege that the magazine had extorted the money. Zhu and Wu, who were arrested on 20 August, plan to appeal.

Moreover, Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the fate of online journalist Yang Tianshui, who was arrested without a warrant by security bureau police in Nankin, in the central province of Jiangsu, on 23 December and who has been accused of "divulging state secrets." His family still do not know where he is being held.

Yang was arrested by a score of plain-clothes security bureau policemen as he was returning home with a friend, who was subsequently freed. According to Chinese law, an arrest warrant must be produced within 24 hours of someone being detained, and you cannot keep someone in detention more than 48 hours without this document. Yang could currently be held in a hotel, a detention centre or a prison.

It was the Zhenjiang security bureau which said Yang had been accused of "divulging state secrets" and had been banned from receiving any help from a lawyer. An official said to his lawyer he could not give any further information about the case without prior authorisation from his superiors.

Yang was previously arrested on 24 December 2004 on a charge of encouraging the subversion of state authority. He was freed a month later after his sister offered herself as a "guarantor" while he awaited trial.

As well has posting many articles on the Internet, Yang has written for the Chinese-language edition of Epoch Times, a daily newspaper produced outside of China. He has above all written about cases of torture of human rights activists and cases in which criminals have received official protection.

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