The waiting ends with a swift trial for Ching Cheong
Secret hearing on spy charges follows 16 months' detention
Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong, detained on the mainland on spying charges for more than 16 months, was given a swift trial behind closed doors in a Beijing court yesterday.
The fate of the veteran journalist, China correspondent for The Straits Times of Singapore, remained unknown as his wife and supporters pleaded for his early release.
But the quick hearing was confirmed by his employers, who said they were glad that it was finally over. 'We sincerely hope for the best outcome and will continue to assist him and his family in all possible ways,' they said in a statement.
In Hong Kong, Ching's wife, journalist Mary Lau Man-yee, said she hoped her husband would be released as soon as possible. 'We will continue to seek his early release even if he is convicted.'
Last night, about 100 people staged a candle-light vigil organised by the Hong Kong Journalists' Association in Chater Garden calling for a fair and open trial for Ching. Those attending included friends and members of rights groups.
Association chairwoman Serenade Woo Lai-wan quoted Lau as saying her husband was in a 'fine mental state' but had lost weight.
Some friends of Ching, including executive councillor Tsang Yok-sing, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate Rosanna Wong Yick-ming and National People's Congress deputies Ng Hong-mun and Ma Fung-kwok, had recently written to Beijing calling for a fair trial.
Yesterday's hearing came after Ching's case had been tossed back and forth between the state security bureau and the procuratorate since his detention in April last year. The Foreign Ministry has said Ching had confessed to receiving a 'large sum' for collecting intelligence on the mainland following instructions from an overseas intelligence agency. Observers have speculated this is connected with Taiwan.
Reporters were barred from covering the trial at Beijing No2 Intermediate People's Court, though it is understood that Ching's family members arrived in the capital for the hearing.
One witness said: 'I saw Ching Cheong's name, courtroom number and the judge's name, Li Huiwen, on the court hearing list, with a circle marked on Ching Cheong's name.'
Ong Yew-kim, a China law expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Ching was facing a jail term of five to eight years if convicted. He said the authorities must have had sufficient evidence to bring him before a court after more than one year of investigations.
He said Ching's lawyers could still try to argue that those Taiwanese agencies that Ching allegedly worked for had become non-official organisations after the Democratic Progressive Party took over from the Kuomintang.
Expecting a verdict later this week, Mr Ong believed there was no way Ching could be sent to Hong Kong. 'That kind of arrangement only applies to people with foreign passports.'
He believed Ching would also seek to appeal if convicted. 'But there is virtually no chance of overturning [a] conviction,' he said.
National People's Congress Standing Committee member Tsang Hin-chi defended the secret trial. He said the case involved national security and therefore a trial in open court was out of the question.
NPC deputy Allen Lee Peng-fei, the sole politician with links to Beijing who attended last night's vigil, said he did not believe Ching was a spy but it was highly possible that he would be convicted and jailed. 'I hope the central government will bear in mind Ching Cheong's past contribution to the country and give a lenient term,' he said.
The Hong Kong News Executives Association called for a fair trial for Ching. The Security Bureau said it would continue to give all practicable help to Ching's family, would keep in touch with the mainland authorities and convey the latest developments to the family.