Reporters and human rights activists in New York are calling on the Chinese government to release Ching Cheong, a reporter for the Singapore-based Straits Times, who has been detained for over a year on charges of spying for Taiwan.
Ching was arrested in southern China in April 2005. A month later, the Chinese foreign ministry announced that Ching had confessed to being a spy in the pay of foreign agencies, gathering intelligence information.
Ching's wife, Mary Lau, says he was trapped by an intermediary while trying to obtain recordings of secret interviews with former communist party leader Zhao Ziang. Zhao died under house arrest in January 2005 while being investigated for his role in negotiating with pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.
Media advocacy groups say China has not produced any evidence against Ching. Abi Wright of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists says reporters and Internet writers in China increasingly face detention without charges or the chance of mounting a real defense.
"According to the CPJ's research, there are more than thirty people currently behind bars for their work as journalists in China. Part of this trend that's very disturbing for us is the use of national security legislation, such as charging someone with espionage, someone like Ching Cheong. These are extremely serious charges that carry lengthy sentences and we are deeply alarmed," he said.
Ching faces a possible death sentence. His sentencing is scheduled for later this month, which has alarmed media groups. The international group Reporters Without Borders organized news conferences in 10 major cities in the United States and around the world to call attention to Ching's plight. Lucie Morillon, a spokesperson for the group, says Ching's arrest is a warning to all journalists working in China.
"Reporters Without Borders believes Ching Cheong's arrest was a clear signal to Chinese contributors who work for foreign media. The publicity department is keeping a tight grip on the Chinese media and they also want at some point to control the foreign media. But it's another matter to deal with non-Chinese media, so they have this idea to try to control them in intimidating the Chinese contributors to the foreign media and that is exactly what they are doing in arresting Ching Cheong, but and others," he said.
Ching is a resident of Singapore and holds a British National Overseas passport, a category of passport given to citizens of Hong Kong.
The media groups hope the appeal will spur international media coverage of Ching's situation. The groups want governments and business people dealing with China to take a stand, pressuring the Chinese government.
Beijing officials have rejected previous appeals by Reporters Without Borders, including an earlier petition signed by thousands of people worldwide.