Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the news that the sentence of Yu Huafeng, the former president of the Nanfang Dushi Bao newspaper, has been reduced by one year. It comes nine days after the release of the newspaper’s former managing editor, Li Minying. Both were convicted on corruption charges. Yu’s lawyer said he did not know why his client’s sentence was reduced.
Arrested in the southern city of Guangzhou on 14 January 2004, Yu was sentenced on appeal to eight years in prison. Under Chinese law, prisoners may be released after serving half of their sentence. As Yu’s sentence has been reduced to seven years, he could be released as early as next June, three and half years after his arrest.
Nanfang Dushi Bao’s former director freed on completing half of six-year sentence
Reporters Without Borders hailed the release today of Li Minying, the former director of the newspaper Nanfang Dushi Bao, three years before completing a six-year sentence for alleged corruption. He was arrested in January 2004 at the same time as the newspaper’s manager, Yu Huafeng, who is serving an eight-year sentence. The newspaper’s news editor, Cheng Yizhong, was also detained in 2004 but later released.
“Li spent three years of his life in prison after being unfairly convicted in order to punish him for being a bold and dynamic newspaper executive,” Reporters Without Borders said. “His release is very good news, but there is now an urgent need to press for the release of Yu, who is still in prison for his role at the head of Nanfang Dushi Bao.”
Li, who was released from Panyu prison in the southern province of Guangdong, is reportedly in good physical and psychological shape. He has so far refused to make any comment, partly in order not to harm his still imprisoned colleague Yu.
Under Chinese law, a prisoner may be granted release after serving more than half his sentence. This is the second time that Li, who is supported by many Chinese journalists, has had his sentence reduced. He was not mistreated while in prison and was able to phone his family regularly.
His lawyer and his wife told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that they were only notified a few days ago that he was to be released.
On 7 May 2004, Li’s original sentence of 11 years in prison was reduced by the Guangzhou intermediate court on appeal to six years, while Yu’s sentence was reduced from 12 to eight years. The judges said: “The initial verdicts were based on clear facts and real proof. The verdict punished the crime and the judicial procedure was legal. But the sentences were rather heavy.”
The lawyer representing the journalist, had insisted on their innocence and appealed to the Guangdong high court. Within a few weeks of the appeal’s rejection in 2005, a total of 2,356 Chinese journalists had signed a petition calling for their release in the name of justice.
As regards the charges of corruption, the colleagues of Yu and Li say all they did was distribute bonuses to employees based on the newspaper’s increase in advertising revenue. Various sources have said the charges were cooked up by the authorities to punish the executives of a liberal daily that had published a series of investigative reports about SARS and about a young graphic designer, Sun Zhigang, who was beaten to death in a Guangzhou police station.