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Beijing denies jailing reporter

John Kohut

BEIJING has denied it tried and sentenced a New China News Agency reporter and his wife to stiff prison terms for having allegedly leaked state secrets to a Hongkong newspaper.

But Chinese sources said yesterday another journalist, a reporter for the People's Daily, had been detained for several months for allegedly supplying information to a Taiwan newspaper.

In a report yesterday, Taiwan's mass-circulation United Daily News said Wu Shichen had been sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Beijing People's Intermediary Court for allegedly leaking state secrets to the Express.

The newspaper also said Wu's wife had been sentenced to seven years in jail for complicity.

''There's no such thing,'' a spokesman for the Beijing People's Intermediary Court, which normally handles such matters, said yesterday when asked about the United Daily News report.

The spokesman said no trial, let alone sentencing, had taken place.

At the home of the couple, investigators found US$20,000 (HK$154,700), which Wu said he had set aside to buy an apartment, the United Daily News said.

Wu was a graduate of the Fudan University journalism department. He was chief of the industrial group of the internal affairs department of the New China News Agency, it said.

The main item which Wu allegedly leaked was a copy of the speech Communist Party chief Mr Jiang Zemin later delivered at the opening of the party's congress last October.

A 15-year sentence would indeed be stiff relative to punishments handed down to other Chinese for similar offences, especially as the speech itself was delivered publicly a week after appearing in the Express.

In Hongkong, the editor-in-chief of the Express, Mr Peter Chiu Shin-chun said he could not make any comments before a formal official announcement.

He said normally the New China News Agency would carry a report on such important matters.

Mr Chiu said he was concerned about the report and he was trying to seek more information from the news agency.

Meanwhile, Chinese sources said a People's Daily reporter had been detained for about six months for allegedly providing information to a journalist working for a Taiwan newspaper.

''The People's Daily staffer has not been told why he is being detained,'' a source said.

''He did not hand over any documents.

''It is believed he merely had a chat with the Taiwan journalist.'' It is believed that the People's Daily reporter will be put on trial soon. The proceedings will not be open to the public.

Authorities have given severe warnings to Chinese journalists and writers who freelance for publications in Hongkong and Taiwan.