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Hong Kong Legislators Urge Action Over Journalist Held in Mainland China

Ching Cheong, Chief China Correspondent for Singapore's The Straits Times newspaper

Lawmakers and journalists are urging Hong Kong's government to do all it can to help a Hong Kong reporter detained in mainland China and accused of spying.

Ching Cheong, a senior correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, has been detained since traveling to Guangzhou in April, reportedly to obtain transcripts of interviews with the late ousted Chinese Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang.

China claims Mr. Ching has confessed to spying, a crime punishable by death.

At a meeting Friday in Hong Kong, journalists and legislators urged action over Mr. Ching's arrest.

Legislator Ronny Tong says the Hong Kong government should take steps to help Mr. Ching.

"I think the first thing the government ought to do is gain more information about what is happening and how quickly Mr. Ching will be brought to trial, whether or not the Hong Kong government can help by arranging a lawyer to defend, or at least find out what is happening," he said.

Mr. Tong appealed for a speedy, open trial and for humane treatment of Mr. Ching. He said the case presented a clear challenge to the rule of law and freedom of the press, core values of Hong Kong.

Lawmaker Margaret Ng rejected the accusation that Mr. Ching would sell state secrets for money, and fellow journalists attested to his integrity.

Nicolas Becquelin of the organization, Human Rights in China, says, if Mr. Ching has signed a confession, it is likely to be the result of duress.

"Nobody can be under duress, detained without contact to a lawyer, without signing a confession,” he added. “This is because the psychological pressure is so high, the strain, the anguish about not knowing what one's fate will be, and all the pressure the interrogators bring on you, makes a confession absolutely inevitable."

China is the world's top jailer of journalists, with at least 42 detained in 2004.

The chairman of Hong Kong's security panel, James To, announced Friday that Secretary of Security Ambrose Lee will meet with Hong Kong lawmakers on Tuesday to discuss Mr. Ching's case.