11/24/2006, 00.00
CHINA – HONG KONG

Beijing High Court rejects Cheong appeal: 5 years in jail

Relatives and colleagues of the journalist – condemned without proof for spying for Taiwan – have indicted the unjust Chinese legal system that did not even take the arguments presented for the appeal into account.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The High Court in Beijing today rejected the appeal presented by Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist convicted without proof and sentenced to five years in prison for "spying for Taiwan". His relatives and supporters in the Territory described the sentence as "shocking".

The Beijing court maintained that the five-year sentence for Ching – former chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times – was "accurate in application of the law and an appropriate punishment". A judge of the court said "Ching's right of appeal had been fully guaranteed".

Ching's family attended the hearing. They said they were "shocked" and "disappointed with the mainland's legal system". Ching's elder brother, Ching Hai, said: "We feel very sad and shocked. The judge completely agreed with the lower court and rejected our grounds for appeal. We think it's very unfair,"

From Hong Kong, colleagues and supporters of Ching accused the High Court of "ignoring the defence argument" and said that "put serious doubt about the fairness of China's legal system".

Ching, 56, has been under arrest since April 2005. On 31 August, the court condemned him to five years in jail: the journalist was said to have confessed to selling military secrets to Taiwan and to setting up a spy network to "sell state secrets" to foreign powers.

The journalist's lawyers described his sentence as "mistaken, because it was pronounced without proof" while Taipei has often said the charges are unfounded and has given unequivocal guarantees of the reporter's innocence.

In China, most information pertaining to the life of the nation is considered to be "state secret" and revealing it through the media is branded as "an attempt against state security". Currently at least 42 journalists are in prison because of this.

Dissident figures have told AsiaNews that the reasons for Ching Cheong's arrest are to be found in his research on Zhao Ziyang, who was secretary of the Party during the time of the pro-democracy uprisings, and about the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. The government continues to justify the massacre as a "minor" evil which guaranteed national stability and order, leading to economic success. 

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