02/05/2008, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Ching Cheong, a journalist condemned without proof, is freed

The reporter, who worked for Straits Times, had been condemned to 5 years in prison for “spying for Taiwan”. This morning, after having served half of his jail term, he was released on parole.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist who had been condemned without proof to 5 years in prison for “spying for Taiwan”, was released on parole this morning after having spent half of the sentence in a jail in  Guangzhou. He will be able to spend the Lunar New Year with his family.

His release was unexpected, even if authorities say they had notified his family. His wife, Mary Lau, has so far made no statements; the president of the Hong Kong journalists Association, Mark Yin-ting, says: “We are glad that Ching Cheong has been released early. But we regret that while he was innocent he was still put in jail and we hope it won't happen again”.

57 year old Ching, was first arrested in April 2005.  On August 31 of the following year, judges in a lower Chinese court condemned him to 5 years prison: the journalist apparently confessed to having sold military information to Taiwan and of having organised a network of spies to “sell state secrets” to foreign powers.

In November 2006, Beijing’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal and confirmed the sentence, after a one day trial during which no evidence against the journalist, chief China correspondent for the Singapore daily Straits Times, was presented.  

His paper greeted the news of his “long awaited” release with “joy”.   Warren Fernandez, deputy director, had testified in favour of Ching during the original trial and now says: “We welcome this great news and look forward to meeting him as soon as possible”.

In China, the vast majority of information on the life of the nation is considered “State secret” and reporting on these “secrets” in media is considered “an attack against state security”. Currently at least 42 journalists are being held in prison for this crime across the country.

Figures belonging to the dissidence have revealed to AsiaNews that the real reasons for Ching Cheong’s arrest lie in the search for Zhao Ziyang, Party Secretary during the period of the pro-democracy uprising and Tiananmen massacre of '89. The government continues to define the massacre as a “lesser of two evils” that has guaranteed national order and stability, bringing economic success.

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