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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 02:21 GMT
China rejects journalist appeal
Ching Cheong (courtesy: The Straits Times)
Ching Cheong received a five-year sentence
A Chinese court has rejected an appeal by a Hong Kong reporter who was jailed by mainland China on spying charges.

Ching Cheong, chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times, was jailed in August after being found guilty of spying for Taiwan.

Beijing High Court rejected his appeal in a 30-minute hearing, his brother Ching Hei said.

The case has sparked criticism in Hong Kong, and many human rights groups have called for Ching's release.

According to Chinese media, Ching was found guilty of buying information and passing it to Taiwan's intelligence services over a period of five years from mid-2000 to March 2005.

State news agency Xinhua said Ching had confessed to the charges, a statement both his family and employers reject.

There was no consideration for our argument. Therefore, we feel very disappointed but we firmly believe that he is innocent
Ching Hei, brother of journalist

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.

New appeal considered

Speaking outside the courthouse after the appeal was rejected, Ching Hei said that his family found the decision "hard to accept".

"The appeal court has only supported the initial court's evidence and verdict. There was no consideration for our argument. Therefore, we feel very disappointed but we firmly believe that he is innocent," Ching Hei added.

Xinhua said Beijing's Higher People's Court had ruled that the initial verdict was "a correct application of the law and provided appropriate punishment".

The journalist's family have said they will attempt to lodge another appeal.

The case has sparked criticism in Hong Kong, with a number of newspapers questioning the legitimacy of the legal proceedings.

Ching was tried in an unacceptable way on baseless charges
Reporters Without Borders

The Straits Times has appealed to China for leniency for Ching, asking for a sentence reduction.

"We urge that you take into consideration his professional record as a journalist for the Straits Times, and the fact that he is in poor health," Reuters news agency quoted a letter from editor Han Fook Kwang as saying.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, called the sentence "appalling".

"Ching was tried in an unacceptable way on baseless charges," the organisation said in a statement.

More than 80 journalists and "cyber-dissidents" are currently imprisoned in China, the organisation said.

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