31 Aug 2006

China jails Singapore journo for spying

August 31, 2006 - 4:30PM

A Chinese court jailed a reporter for a Singapore newspaper for five years on a charge of spying in the latest in a series of high-profile cases illustrating China's curbs on the media and dissent.

Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based China correspondent for the Straits Times who has been detained in China since April 2005, was also deprived of his political rights for a year and had personal property worth 300,000 yuan ($A49,500) confiscated, Xinhua news agency said.

Ching, 56, was charged with spying for Taiwan.

He was detained in the southern province of Guangdong where, his wife has said, he had travelled to collect documents related to disgraced former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang.

Singapore Press Holdings Ltd, the parent of the Straits Times, urged China to consider freeing Ching on medical parole.

"As he is known to be suffering from high blood pressure and is not in the best of health, we appeal to the Chinese authorities to show him leniency and compassion," it said in a statement.

Xinhua said Ching received $HK300,000 from a Taiwan foundation, which it did not identify but described as a front for the island's intelligence apparatus.

Ching dealt with two people from the foundation surnamed Xue and Dai with full knowledge the pair were spies, Xinhua said, adding that using an alias he sent via fax and email information involving state secrets and intelligence which he had gathered from others in Beijing.

China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 32 in custody and another 50 Internet campaigners also in prison, rights group Reporters Without Borders says.

On Friday, a Beijing court dismissed charges that a Chinese researcher for the New York Times had illegally leaked state secrets, but sentenced him to three years for fraud.

Zhao Yan, 44, had been accused of telling the US newspaper details of rivalry between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, over military appointments in 2004.

A day before Zhao's sentencing, China jailed blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng for four years and three months for damaging property and disrupting traffic in what critics considered an unusually harsh sentence.

Sharon Hom, executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China, said she had serious concerns about the Ching case.

"Coming close on the heels of the sentences announced for Zhao Yan and Chen Guangcheng, this sentence also sends a chilling message to journalists, lawyers and other rights defenders," she said via email.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was "very dissatisfied" with the verdict and the lack of transparency and that Ching was likely to appeal.

© 2006 Reuters, Click for Restrictions

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