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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 14:40 GMT
China frees Hong Kong journalist
Ching Cheong poses with his wife, Mary Lau, in Hong Kong after his release (05/02/2008)
Ching asked the media to give him time alone with his family
A Hong Kong journalist who was jailed in mainland China on spying charges has been released after serving less than half a five-year sentence.

Ching Cheong was detained in 2005 and sentenced to five years in jail in a case that angered human rights groups.

Chinese officials accused him of buying information and passing it to Taiwan - charges his family and his employer, Singapore's Straits Times, rejected.

He has now returned to Hong Kong to spend Lunar New Year with his family.

In a handwritten note to the Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA), Ching thanked his supporters for "the time and spirit they contributed for my early return".

He also thanked the Chinese government for granting him parole.

"I am very happy that I was able to return to Hong Kong and reunite with my family before the Chinese New Year. Also that all my friends do not have to be concerned about me," he said.

Ching has asked to be given time with his family and for "a good rest" before speaking to the media.

The HKJA said the terms of Ching's sudden, unexpected release are not yet known, and it is unclear whether he will have his full political rights restored.

"We are glad that Ching Cheong has been released early," said the association's general secretary Mak Yin-ting.

"But we regret that while he was innocent he was still put in jail and we hope it won't happen again."

Reporting crackdown

Ching Cheong (courtesy: The Straits Times)
Ching Cheong received a five-year sentence for spying

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

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

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.

Ching's supporters have always insisted he is innocent, and human rights groups have waged a concerted campaign for his freedom.

Supporters said he was arrested after travelling to China to collect documents linked to the former Chinese leader, Zhao Ziyang.

Zhao, who died in January, was ousted for opposing the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

His wife, Mary Lau Man-yee, has also frequently expressed her fears for Ching's health, and lobbied government figures in Hong Kong and China for an early release on medical grounds.

Ching's plight was one of several high-profile cases highlighted by human rights groups as examples of China's increasing repression of journalists.

His release came on the same day that democracy activist Lu Gengsong was sentenced to four years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power," a charge often used against critics of the authorities.

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

Another high-profile detainee, New York Times reporter Zhao Yan, was released in September.



SEE ALSO
China frees NY Times researcher
15 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
China reporter jailed for spying
31 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
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

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