Jailed reporter's father suffers heart attack

Louis Won

THE father of Hong Kong reporter Xi Yang suffered a heart attack when he was told by court officials his son had been sentenced to 12 years in prison and that he would be stripped of political rights for two years.

Xi's father, who was still in hospital last night, said the sentence was much more severe than earlier reports of leniency suggested, according to a report by TVB.

He said the news was devastating for the family when they were told on Friday.

Court officials did not explain on what grounds Xi was convicted. Nor was there a written verdict.

However, the father of the Ming Pao reporter was told the family could appeal. The family is now considering finding a legal representative.

Ming Pao representatives in Beijing offered their backing for an appeal.

The China-born reporter was arrested in September for allegedly ''stealing state financial secrets'', and was tried in secret.

Xi's father urged delegates of the National People's Congress (NPC), members of the Preliminary Working Committee and anyone who could help to demand that the sentence be commuted.

More than 20 members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China yesterday staged a protest outside the local branch of Xinhua (the New China News Agency).

They urged Chinese authorities to release Xi as soon as possible.

Chairman of the alliance, Szeto Wah, said China's judiciary was acting above the law because it had not released any information about the case since Xi's arrest.

Mr Szeto, who is also a United Democrat legislator, questioned why Xi was not given an open trial and why he could not be represented by a lawyer in court. They also asked why the Chinese Government allowed him to see only his father and only once.

''The Chinese authorities did not even officially announce the verdict,'' he said.

''The whole judiciary has become lawless and it has become the tool for those in power to oppress its civilians.'' United Democrat colleague and legislator Martin Lee Chu-ming said: ''Twelve years for a scoop is extremely shocking.'' ''I think what Xi is supposed to have done is not even a crime to the mass media in Hong Kong''.

Mr Lee believed the Chinese Government was using Xi's sentence as a warning.

''I think 12 years is meant to be a deterrent to the exercise of press freedom by the Hong Kong mass media,'' he said.

Mr Lee called on legislators to urge Beijing to release Xi as soon as possible.

''I would like to see all legislators, no matter what parties they belong to, to unite and perhaps write a joint letter to the Chinese Government, asking for his release because that is going to have a very long-lasting effect on our confidence in Hong Kong's future,'' he said.

Hong Kong NPC delegate, Elsie Leong Oi-sze, said she would not comment until she received official information about Xi's case.

However, she said local NPC delegates were concerned about the case and she would discuss it with other delegates at their next meeting to see how she could help.

But she said there were similar arrangements in Britain and Hong Kong for closed-door hearings in cases concerning national security.

Another NPC delegate, Tsang Tak-shing, said the decision not to give Xi an open trial was in accordance with Chinese judicial procedures based on the nature of the case.

He said the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference could not interfere with the independent judiciary in China.