08/05/2005, 00.00
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Hong Kong journalist accused of spying: risks death penalty

Ching Cheong was researching papers about Zhao Ziyang. The people of Hong Kong claims Beijing wants to muzzle the territory's media.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong has been formally charged by Beijing with espionage. He risks the death penalty. According to Xinhua, the editor-in-chief of the Strait Times (Singapore) spied for Taiwan, receiving "enormous sums of money" from Taipei.

Ching, 55 years, was arrested in Guangzhou on 22 April and so far he has been under house arrest. Ching was in southern China to look for and collect transcripts of interviews with former party secretary Zhao Ziyang, who fell into disgrace for his opposing the massacre in Tiananmen square. Zhao Ziyang died last January.

It was only on 31 May that a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Kong Quan, said Ching Cheong has been apprehended and that he had confessed to his crimes, but no proof was given.

Citing anonymous sources, the Xinhua agency said today that Ching Cheong had gathered "top secret" or "confidential" documents about political, economic and military matters, which he then handed to the government of Taiwan. In China, most information about the life of the nation is considered as "state secret" and revealing it to the media is labelled as "an attempt on state security". Currently at least 42 journalists in the country are detained for this reason. Dissident activists have told AsiaNews the real reason behind Ching Cheong's arrest is tied to his research on Zhao Ziyang and the Tiananmen massacre. The government continues to justify the massacre as a "minor" evil which guaranteed national stability and order, leading to economic success. 

Ching is the first journalist of Hong Kong to be accused of spying. In that territory, his innocence is widely upheld as he is well-known for his professionalism and morality. Ching's wife, Mary Lau Man-yee said she believes in her husband's innocence. The woman, herself a journalist, thinks Ching will be judged and then expelled from China.

In the past, Ching Cheong worked in Hong Kong as editor-in-chief for Filo-Chinese newspaper, Wen Wei Po. In 1989, he handed in his resignation in protest against the Tiannanmen massacre.

Many Hong Kong politicians have called for the journalist's release. Petitions have been launched at international level. Public opinion thinks Ching Cheong is being victimized to serve as an example: China intends to subdue freedom of the press in Hong Kong.

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Journalist Ching Cheong tried on charges of spying for Taiwan
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