Released journalist puts retirement plan on hold

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 February, 2008, 12:00am

Veteran journalist Ching Cheong, who was released on parole from a Guangzhou prison last week, has decided to delay his planned retirement so he can repay Hong Kong for supporting him during his three-year ordeal, his wife said yesterday.

The 56-year-old chief China correspondent for Singapore's The Straits Times was released on Tuesday after serving almost three years of a five-year jail term imposed for spying for Taiwan.

He has not appeared in public since his release. However, his wife, Mary Lau Man-yee, said he had asked her to draw up a list of people who worked hard for his release so he could express his deep gratitude to them.

Speaking on RTHK's Hong Kong Letter radio programme yesterday, Lau - a fellow journalist - revealed that Ching had planned to retire before he was arrested. But she said all that had now changed.

'Ching had planned to retire before this incident. However ... he [now] has a feeling that he still has a lot of unfinished accomplishments.

'He is so grateful for the generous support of Hong Kong society, he wants to pay people back with his best effort,' she said.

Lau said Ching had been out of touch with the outside world for three years and 'he needs a break at this moment'.

She said Ching would meet the media when he and his family had recovered from his ordeal.

She again expressed gratitude to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong for helping secure Ching's release.

'With support from the general public, politicians and the media, Donald Tsang expressed the will to release Ching Cheong to Beijing, with great backup. We are especially grateful for Ambrose Lee's help also,' she said.

Speaking on the same programme, Ching Cheong Incident Concern Group spokesman Mak Chai-ming said he hoped his old friend would focus on the future.

'I can still remember the first sentence you told me after the release was 'a nightmare',' he said, referring to Ching. 'Let the nightmare end, my buddy,' Mr Mak said.

He also said he hoped Ching's health would improve soon.

Mainland academic Lu Jianhua , who was also charged in connection with the case, is still serving a 20-year jail term on the mainland for leaking state secrets.

Ching was first held in April 2005, but officially arrested on espionage charges that August.

He was jailed in Beijing before being transferred to a Guangzhou prison last year.

His arrest stirred up concerns about press freedom in Hong Kong, with campaigns and rallies calling for his release.