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China 31 October 2006

Court decides to skip hearings when considering Ching Cheong’s appeal

Reporters Without Borders today said it was outraged by a Chinese court’s decision not to hold any hearings when it considers Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong’s appeal against the five-year prison sentence and heavy fine he was given in August for alleged spying.

“What do the judicial authorities have to fear when they deny an honest journalist the right to be defended,” the press freedom organisation said. “Regardless of the crude distortion and imprecision of the lower court’s verdict, politically-influenced judges are getting ready to uphold an unfair conviction without even troubling to hold a single hearing.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We call on Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who said he had confidence in the courts’ handling of this case, to ensure that public hearings are held and that the defence is able to present its arguments.”

It was Ching’s lawyers who reported that the Beijing appeal court has decided to consider the appeal without hearings. Ching’s wife, Mary Lau, said that she was "disappointed" by the court’s decision. "They have deprived us of the possibility of demonstrating that the Taiwanese foundation Ching Cheong was working with is not a spy agency," she told Reporters Without Borders.

Ching’s lawyers say the appeal process should take place in November. It could be limited to an announcement confirming the sentence. Chinese law allows an appeal court to act without convening any hearing if it thinks the evidence presented by the prosecution at the trial was sufficient.

The appeal was filed on 8 September. Ching, who is the correspondent of the Singapore-based Straits Times daily, has always insisted on his innocence. His health has reportedly deteriorated considerably since his arrest in April last year.


Ching Cheong to appeal against crudely rigged verdict

Reporters Without Borders said today it backs the decision of Ching Cheong, of the Singapore daily Straits Times in Hong Kong, to appeal against his five-year prison sentence for "spying".

The press freedom organisation also joined the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association in repeating its call for his immediate release. "We are firmly convinced that this heavy sentence is designed to punish an investigative journalist and to sow fear among the Hong Kong press," it said.

Ching’s lawyer He Peihua, confirmed to Agence France-Presse that an appeal had been lodged with a court in Beijing on 8 September. "He and his family consider the sentence too harsh and unjust," he said.

The journalist who has always protested his innocence has had a message passed to his family calling the verdict unfair.

The press freedom organisation said it was shocked at the rigged content, presented as the verdict in Ching’s trial, published by a newspaper in Hong Kong.

The spying charge was based solely on his professional contacts with researchers with a Taiwanese foundation. If Ching Cheong was indeed paid by the Taiwanese foundation to write articles on geo-strategic subjects that does not in any way amount to espionage, the organisation said.

The entire procedure was riddled with irregularities and secrecy and the justice system is hiding behind alleged confessions by Ching Cheong and Chinese academics obtained in circumstances contrary to international norms of justice.

Moreover the type of news put out by the journalist which the justice system termed "state secrets" reveals the paranoia of those in power in Beijing. Scores of journalists, dissidents and university professors are imprisoned in China for having divulged supposed "state secrets".

The Taiwanese government on 1 September denied that Ching spied for Taipei. The authorities did however confirm that the Hong Kong reporter did have professional contacts with a Taiwanese research foundation.

On top of the prison sentence, the court sentenced Ching to fines of 300,000 yuan (30,000 euros) and 310,000 Hong Kong dollars (more than 30,000 euros). Some of his family’s property in China has been seized. His wife, Mary Lau, expressed astonishment at the swingeing fines. "They appear to think that we have a lot of money," she said.

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