Friends, supporters rally to support Ching

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2006, 12:00am

Updated at 7.21pm:
Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong?s family, his friends and fellow journalists on Thursday expressed dismay at Beijing?s jailing of Ching for spying.

At a special press conference at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents? Club on Thursday afternoon, friends and supporters expressed outrage at the heavy jail term handed out to Ching.

The FCC press conference was attended by a large number of journalists ? clearly concerned about the fate of Ching and the difficulties reporters may face working in China.

Ching was convicted of spying by a Beijing court and sentenced to five years in prison. He had worked with Hong Kong?s pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown he had been working with Singapore?s Straits Times.

Ching?s wife, Mary Lau Man-yee, was ?astonished? at hearing the verdict and was planning to file an appeal, Paul Lai, a lawyer who helped Ching and member of a support group, told reporters on Thursday.

Mr Lai said Mrs Lau had planned to appear at the FCC but she was too distraught to appear in public.

A statement by Ching?s family said the Beijing verdict was ?unacceptable? and ?serious?.

?The verdict has a serious inclination to the prosecution case and fails to take heed of most of the views expressed by the defence side,? it said.

Ching?s family said they had always maintained that Ching was a man of integrity and the spying allegations were unfounded.

Serenade Woo, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists? Association, said the group was shattered to learn the jailing of Ching and doubted if he had received fair treatment.

?There has been no transparency whatsoever in the year-long investigation and the trial. It is extremely doubtful if he has received fair treatment,? said Ms Woo.

She said the definitions of espionage and state secrets were so ambiguous in mainland law that journalists could easily break the law when carrying out their work.

Ms Woo urged the mainland government to hold a fair and open appeal for Ching. ?If the appeal does not show sufficient and solid evidence for conviction, the original verdict should be reversed and Mr Ching should be promptly released.?

She said Thursday?s verdict gave a very bad signal to journalists that would deter them from collecting sensitive materials.

Journalists and supporters discussed raising money to help Ching fight the verdict.

The FCC is Hong Kong?s most well-known club for journalists and other professionals. It is a popular venue for speakers in the territory.