Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay on learning that a Beijing court today sentenced Ching Cheong, the Hong Kong-based correspondent of Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, to five years in prison for spying. He is the second journalist employed by a foreign news organisation to receive a prison sentence in the past week.
“This sentence is appalling,” the press freedom organisation said. “Ching was tried in an unacceptable way on baseless charges. This crackdown on journalists employed by foreign media bodes ill for the Beijing Olympic Games that are now less than two years away and deserves strong condemnation by the International Olympic Committee and the countries taking part.”
A British passport holder, Ching was sentenced by the Beijing Intermediate People’s Court No. 2, which also ordered the seizure of 300,000 yuan (29 000 euros) of his assets. Arrested on 22 April 2005, he had been tried behind closed doors on 15 August, in a hearing that last just a few hours.
He is alleged to have sold “top secret” documents to Taiwanese intelligence agencies. His wife, Mary Lau, denied that he ever sold confidential information and said he had always lived modestly. It seems his real crime in the eyes of the Chinese authorities was to have tried to obtain a manuscript of the former reformist leader Zhao Ziyang, the victim of a purge within the Communist Party. The shadow of the Beijing Spring still hangs over journalists who, like Ching, criticised the brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.
Ching’s family will appeal against his conviction.
Ching’s prison sentence was issued just a week after New York Times researcher Zhao Yan received a three-year prison sentence. More than 80 journalists and cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned in China.