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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 04:05 GMT 05:05 UK
China reporter jailed for spying
Ching Cheong (courtesy: The Straits Times)
Ching Cheong received a five-year sentence
A Hong Kong journalist has been jailed for five years in mainland China, after being convicted of spying.

Ching Cheong, who was the chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times, has been in detention since April 2005.

Chinese officials accuse him of buying information and passing it to Taiwan's intelligence services over a period of five years from mid-2000 to March 2005.

Both his family and his employers reject the charges.

Ching is the first Hong Kong journalist to have been charged with spying since China resumed sovereignty over the territory in 1997.

The maximum penalty for espionage in China is death.

China and Taiwan are believed to actively spy on each other. China sees Taiwan as its territory, threatening to use force if the island moves towards formal independence.

'Very unfair'

Ching was put on trial behind closed doors two weeks ago.

No information has been received about what was said inside the courtroom, but state news agency Xinhua reported on Thursday that Ching had been sentenced to five years in jail.

Zhao Yan ( image courtesy of New York Times)
China has also jailed Zhao Yan (image: New York Times)
"We think it's very unfair, because from the beginning to the end nobody knew what happened," James Lung, coordinator of the Hong Kong-based Rescue Ching Cheong Alliance, told the French news agency AFP.

Ching was arrested in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in April 2005.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said that he confessed to gathering information about Chinese political, economic and military affairs, to pass to Taiwanese intelligence officials.

But his supporters insist he is innocent of the charge. His wife Mary Lau said he was in Guangzhou collecting secret papers linked to the former Chinese leader, Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted for opposing the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

She has reportedly suggested her husband was set up by an unnamed intermediary.

Reporting crackdown

Ching's case is one of several that have recently highlighted the dangers of reporting in China.

According to the human rights group Reporters Without Borders, more than 30 journalists are in custody, along with another 50 internet campaigners.

Last Friday, a Beijing court dismissed charges that New York Times employee Zhao Yan had illegally leaked state secrets, but sentenced him to three years for fraud.

Human rights activists have also been targeted in recent months. Blind civil rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng, who raised concerns about forced abortions, was sentenced to more than four years in jail earlier this month.

Prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was also detained by police recently. He had actively campaigned on behalf of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

Ching Cheong arrives at court to hear his fate

China trials show danger of dissent
25 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
HK reporter 'on trial in Beijing'
15 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
China charges HK reporter as spy
05 Aug 05 |  Asia-Pacific
HK reporter spying, China says
31 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Call for release of HK journalist
31 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
China jails US-based activist
13 May 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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