IFJ Calls on Beijing to Show Serious Commitment to Journalists’ Rights

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), in welcoming the release on Tuesday of veteran Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, who had been detained for almost three years in mainland China on charges of spying.

However, Ching’s release fails to allay concerns in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games about China’s policies on freedom of expression and the right to access information, its continuing censorship and repression of the rights of journalists and human rights defenders, and the flawed legal processes used to silence critics.

Ching was freed just a day before a court in the eastern city of Hangzhou sentenced freelance writer and democracy activist Lu Gengsong to four years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power". The charge is vague and often used against critics of the ruling Communist Party.

“Unfortunately, Ching’s release does not give cause to celebrate press freedom in China,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said. “Ching’s terrible experience is not an isolated case. Many other journalists, writers and human rights defenders remain in jail in China after undergoing unjust legal processes on questionable evidence and charges. All should be released as soon as possible.”

The HKJA and IFJ called on China’s government to absolve Ching of the allegations against him and guarantee the full restoration of his political rights.

Ching, 58, a correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times, was detained during a visit to the southern city of Guangzhou in April 2005. He was released on parole on Tuesday. The terms of his release are not known, the HKJA said, and China’s authorities issued no statement.

In a message to the HKJA on Tuesday, Ching thanked his supporters for “the time and spirit they contributed for my early return”. Ching's wife, Mary Lau, the HKJA and IFJ affiliates around the world have campaigned vigorously for Ching’s release and the dropping of all charges against him. Ching’s supporters stressed that the charges were spurious and condemned the five-year jail sentence imposed against him in a closed-door hearing in August 2006.

Ching was arrested in April 2005 and held for 106 days before the Beijing State Security Bureau laid formal charges of espionage. The Beijing Higher People’s Court rejected Ching’s appeal in November 2006, and deprived Ching of his political rights for one year and confiscated his personal property worth 300,000 yuan (then about US$38,000).

“If Beijing wants to project a positive image in the lead-up to the Olympics, China must show a genuine regard for the right to free expression and the right to access information, in accordance with international human rights principles,” Ms Park said. “The IFJ reiterates its demand that China’s authorities stop harassing and jailing journalists, and release all those now in jail.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries