10/28/2006, 00.00
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Beijing denies appeal to Ching Cheong, journalist condemned without proof

An expert on Chinese law said Ching has practically no chance of being released now. There is the faint hope that his sentence may be reduced.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A court in the Chinese capital has refused to grant an appeal hearing to Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist imprisoned for "spying" for Taiwan. An expert on Chinese law said it was highly likely the court would uphold the initial verdict of five years in jail, handed down in the absence of evidence to prove the man's guilt.

Mary Lau Man-yee, Ching's wife, said: "We're disappointed with the court's decision not to hold a hearing. They have turned a deaf ear to our request."

Jurist Ong Yew-kim said: "The court's decision not to conduct a hearing is because it is already satisfied with the evidence and facts presented during the first trial. In that case, there may be the possibility of reducing the sentence, but the original verdict would remain."

Ching, the chief China correspondent of Singapore's The Straits Times was arrested in April 2005. State media claim he 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 Taiwan 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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