China - Ching Cheong's release hailed, although it is eclipsed by Hu Jia's arrest and Lu Gengsong's sentencing



    MONTREAL, Feb. 5 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders is relieved
that Hong-Kong based journalist Ching Cheong, a correspondent of Singapore's
Straits Times newspaper, was freed on parole this morning from a prison in the
southern city of Guangzhou where he was serving a five-year sentence on a
spying charge. He arrived back in Hong Kong at midday. Arrested on 22 April
2005, he had just over two years of his sentence still to serve.
    "Ching should never have been arrested and imprisoned," Reporters Without
Borders said. "His release is very welcome, especially as it will allow him to
celebrate the Chinese New Year with his family, but he is still not completely
free. The Chinese government should continue down this road by releasing,
before the start of the Olympic Games, all of the 32 journalists and 51
cyber-dissidents who are currently held."
    The press freedom organisation added: "We pay tribute to the
extraordinary efforts made by Ching's family, his friends of the Ching Cheong
Concern Group and the journalistic community in Hong Kong, who always defended
his innocence in the face of the Chinese government's unjust accusations."
    Ching's release must not be allowed to divert attention from the plight
of human rights activist Hu Jia, who has been held since 27 December on a
charge of "inciting subversion of state authority," or from the four-year
prison sentence passed yesterday on writer Lu Gengsong in the eastern city of
Hangzhou on the same charge.
    Li Changqing, the former editor of Fuzhou Daily, was freed on 2 February
on completing a three-year sentence for "spreading alarmist reports."
    Mak Chai-ming of the Ching Cheong Concern Group told Reporters Without
Borders he was "very happy" about Ching's release and hoped Ching would now be
able to explain the circumstances and reasons for his arrest. The Hong Kong
Journalists Association said it hoped this kind of arrest would not recur. The
management of the Straits Times said it was "delighted by this long-awaited
release."
    When a Reporters Without Borders representative met with Ching's wife,
Mary Lau, in Hong Kong in December, she described his prison conditions: "He
is in a cell with 12 other inmates, most of them criminals serving long
sentences. There are two factories in the prison. He has to work eight hours a
day, with additional hours twice a week, until 9 pm. He makes police uniforms.
The prisoners are not paid."
    Lau added: "Ching had a problem with high blood pressure before his
arrest, but it flared up only two or three times a year. Now he has it all the
time. He is suffering as result of the military discipline in the prison. He
has lost 15 kilos since his arrest. You already know that the first month,
when he was held in Beijing, was extremely tough. The way he was treated could
be regarded as mental torture."
    Ching has had heart and stomach problems, and doctors reportedly
discovered a duodenal ulcer. He was hospitalised on more than one occasion,
but the family was not told until several weeks later.
    The holder of a "British National Overseas" passport, Ching was arrested
on 22 April 2005 while visiting Guangzhou and was sentenced on 31 August 2006
to five years in prison and a fine of 60,000 euros for allegedly spying for
Taiwan. The official news agency Xinhua published a report claiming the Ching
sold business, political and military information to Taiwanese agents for
millions of dollars between 2000 and 2005.
    Ching worked from 1974 to June 1989 for the Hong Kong-based daily Wen Wei
Po, which supports the Beijing government. He resigned after the Tiananmen
Square massacre and set up an independent political magazine called
Contemporary. He joined the Singapore-based Straits Times in 1996. He has
written many articles and books about the Communist Party of China, Taiwan and
Hong Kong.
    Reporters Without Borders and the Hong Kong Journalists Association
launched an appeal for Ching's release on 2 June 2005. The petition, which can
be accessed at www.petition-chingcheong.org, had been signed by more than
30,000 people.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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