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France - China 18 July 2006

Sarkozy urged to raise plight of imprisoned journalists and internet-users

As French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy met Chinese counterpart Zhou Yongkang on 18 July, Reporters Without Borders demonstrated in front of the interior ministry in Paris for the release of 82 journalists and Internet-users currently in jail in China.

The organisation also launched the following appeal to Sarkozy: "Reporters Without Borders urges you in talks with Zhou Yongkang to raise the cases of Ching Cheong, Zhao Yan and Shi Tao, three journalists imprisoned on the basis of false charges of spying and divulging state secrets.

"We note that in your latest book Témoignage (Testimony), you promised to question the Chinese about the fate of political prisoners. Mr Sarkozy, what have you asked of Zhou Yongkang?

"Talking about the fight against organised crime and terrorism is one thing, but not to raise human rights and public freedoms questions would be unacceptable. The minister you are welcoming, Mr Sarkozy, is directly responsible for the crackdown on dissident voices in China.

"We realise that for you he is an important representative of the Chinese government, but for tens of thousands of Chinese he is the person directly responsible for torture, unfair imprisonment of dissidents and serious human rights violations."

Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong was accused of spying after being arrested in Guangzhou in April 2005. The Chinese foreign ministry said on 31 May 2005 that the correspondent for the Singapore daily Straits Times had confessed to spying for foreign agencies.

The management of Straits Times has said it was shocked by these accusations and the journalist’s wife, Mary Lau, has explained that he fell into a trap set by a third party when he tried to obtain recordings of secret interviews with reformist ex-prime minister, Zhao Ziyang.

The trial of Zhao Yan, Chinese researcher on the New York Times, for "divulging state secrets" and "fraud" was held behind closed doors on 16 June 2006, in the No 2 People’s Court in Beijing. No witnesses were allowed to appear. This offence is punishable with the death penalty.

Zhao’s sister, Zhao Kun, had her request to attend the trial turned down by the court. Zhao Yan, laureate of the 2005 Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France press freedom award, has been in prison since 17 September 2004. He was accused of revealing news of the retirement from politics of Jiang Zemin to the New York Times before it was officially announced.

Arrested on 24 November 2004, Shi Tao was sentenced on 20 April 2005 to 10 years in prison for "illegally divulging state secrets abroad" because he took the text of an official memo that had been sent to his newspaper, Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News), and posted it on foreign websites. The memo warned journalists of the dangers of social destabilisation on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Shi is currently held in Prison No. 1 in the south-central province of Hunan, which is located on a small island near the city of Yuanjiang. He shares a cell with more than 10 other inmates and makes jewellery in a workshop of poor sanitary standards.

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