Journalist's supporters decry sentence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2006, 12:00am

Family and friends of Ching Cheong say the harsh verdict is unacceptable

Family and friends of Ching Cheong hit out yesterday at the harsh sentence imposed on the Hong Kong-based journalist after a trial shrouded in secrecy.

David Hui Tin-fook, a core member of the Ching Cheong Incident Concern Group formed by 100 friends and alumni in support of the 56-year-old journalist, said the group was 'utterly shattered that Ching had been found guilty'.

'We believe Mr Ching is innocent. For an innocent man, being kept in jail for one day is considered too harsh,' he told a press conference. 'We trust Mr Ching is a patriot and such a verdict is unacceptable.'

Mr Hui, a practising lawyer specialising in mainland law, said the group would help Ching's wife, Mary Lau Man-yee, make an appeal application within 10 days.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Serenade Woo Lai-wan criticised the way the trial had been conducted. 'It was not an open trial. We do not even know what evidence the authorities had against him,' she said, adding that the charges of spying for Taiwan were vague.

'The definition of what constitutes a state secret remains unclear. Reporters could be arrested on any pretext and the verdict would destroy people's confidence in the press freedom on the mainland.'

The association also said it was against international law for Beijing to detain Ching for 16 months without trial and deny him visits by family and access to legal services.

The Hong Kong News Executives' Association called for a clear definition of state secrets.

Some leftists also spoke up for Ching yesterday, although most chose to remain cautious.

Allen Lee Peng-fei, Ching's long-time friend and a deputy to the National People's Congress, said he was unconvinced Ching was a spy. He urged Beijing to treat the case leniently, taking into account the feelings of Hong Kong people.

Xu Simin, a veteran leftist and former delegate to the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said the sentence was too heavy considering the lack of solid evidence produced. He said he would write to Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang and Supreme People's Procuratorate procurator-general Jia Chunwang to raise his concerns.

But Lau Nai-keung, a delegate to the conference, said: 'I do not think the sentence is too heavy in the Chinese standard. CPPCC, as an organisation, cannot provide assistance either.' CPPCC colleague James Tien Pei-chun, also a Hong Kong legislator, shared Mr Lau's views, saying Hong Kong should respect the mainland's legal system.

In Beijing, Chen Zuoer , deputy director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said: 'The trial and prosecution of this case has been done according to the law.'

Activists of The Frontier held an overnight sit-in outside the Beijing Liaison Office in Western. The Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movements in China is expected to stage a rally there today.