Health of jailed journalist has improved, says wife after visit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 February, 2007, 12:00am

Ching Cheong's family gets surprise go-ahead for reunion before Lunar New Year

The health of jailed journalist Ching Cheong has improved since he was transferred from Beijing to Guangzhou to serve out his prison term, members of his family said after visiting him yesterday.

The first visit Ching has received since he was transferred came after a surprise call from a Hong Kong government official to his wife, fellow journalist Mary Lau Man-yee, on Thursday night.

'He looks a bit nervous and thin. Yet he said his abdominal pain is not as serious as before,' Lau said, adding that her 57-year-old husband was 'very surprised and happy' to see his family.

Ching, chief China correspondent for Singapore's The Straits Times, was transferred from Beijing to Guangzhou on January 31 to serve out his five-year sentence for spying for Taiwan.

Lau was accompanied by Ching's elder brother, Ching Hai, and younger sister Helen Ching.

They took with them some books, including former governor Chris Patten's Not Quite the Diplomat and a Bible, which will have to be vetted by prison authorities before Ching can receive them.

'We've told him to stay positive and not to think too much about what has happened, and that we will continue launching petitions,' Lau said. 'We also told him that people in Hong Kong understand [his innocence].

'He urged us to stay healthy and said that he hoped to come back to fulfil his filial piety' towards his parents, who are both in their 80s.

On Monday, Lau said a Guangzhou prison official had told her that the family's application for a visit and reunion dinner with Ching had been rejected because he had to receive one month of 'education'.

Lau said she was very grateful for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's help in arranging the visit, which she understood was a special arrangement. 'I hope that Mr Tsang will continue fighting for Ching Cheong's release on medical parole,' she said.

She believed Ching had received a medical check-up while he was in prison in Beijing.

Ching Hai said he thought his brother looked healthier than before, which he attributed to the better environment in Guangzhou.

'Ching Cheong told us that he has a very tight schedule every day and has to get up at around 6.30am,' Ching Hai said.

His brother seemed 'a bit reluctant' to tell them about the work he had to do each day.

'I told him about the situation in Hong Kong, and the support that the legislators have given him. I asked him to be optimistic and think about things in the long term,' he said.

In November, the Beijing Higher People's Court upheld the verdict of a lower court that last August found Ching guilty of spying for Taiwan and jailed him. He was arrested in April 2005 when he travelled to Guangzhou to collect transcripts of interviews conducted by Zong Fengming , a long-time associate of late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang .