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China 15 May 2008

Journalist gets four years for exposing Communist Party corruption in Shandong

Reporters Without Borders condemns the four-year prison sentence that a court in Tengzhou, in the eastern province of Shandong, imposed on journalist Qi Chonghuai on 13 May on charges fraud and extorting money. Qi, who spent 11 months in pretrial detention, used to work for Fazhi Zaobao (Legal Rule Morning Post), a newspaper owned by the justice ministry.

One of his lawyers, Li Xiongbing, who pleaded for his acquittal in court, said that this decision violates press freedom.

“Coming just a few months before the Olympic Games, this sentences is yet another example of the Chinese government’s lack of tolerance for critical writers and journalists.” Reporters Without Borders said. “Qi’s trial was not fair. It lasted only 11 hours, the defence was unable to call any witness and no written proof of the alleged fraud was produced. Local Chinese justice had yet again displayed a complete lack of transparency.”

Aged 42, Qi had worked for 13 years as a journalist for Fazhi Zaobao and other media outlets, and often wrote about corruption in political and financial circles. He was arrested on 25 June after posting an article about Communist Party corruption in Tengzhou on a forum on Xinhuanet, the website of the official news agency. He was formally charged with “fraud and extorting money” on 2 August.

Nine days before Qi’s arrest, a friend of his, freelance photographer Ma Shiping, was arrested for the same reason, although the pretext used was the fact that he had posted a photo of an official building online without being officially accredited as a photographer. A member of the staff at Tengzhou Daily, which used to employ Ma, said: “He dared to say what the accredited reporters did not dare write. He dared to say the truth.” Ma is still detained in Tengzhou.

One of Qi’s former colleagues at Fazhi Zaobao, journalist He Yanjie, was given a two-year prison sentence by the same court in connection with his work for the newspaper. Both journalists are being held in Tengzhou prison.

Today in China, 31 journalists and 48 cyberdissidents are in jail.

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