A human rights organization says a Hong Kong journalist detained for more than a year in China has gone on trial for espionage.

Hong Kong's Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy says the trial of Ching Cheong began Tuesday in Beijing.

Court officials in the Chinese capital declined to discuss details of the case or confirm that Ching's trial has begun. The 56-year-old journalist could face the death penalty if he is convicted.

Ching was the chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper. He was arrested in southern China in April 2005 and later formally charged with spying for Taiwan.

His wife says Ching was trying to obtain the text of an interview with Zhao Ziyang, the former Chinese Communist Party leader. Zhao was removed from power after expressing sympathy for those who took part in the 1989 protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The ousted Communist Party chief died in January 2005, 15 years after he was placed under house arrest.

Reporters Without Borders says China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 32 writers and reporters in custody and another 50 Internet activists in prison. Most trials involving espionage and state security issues take place in secret.

The United States has expressed concern about the charges against Ching, noting that freedom of the press is a fundamental and internationally recognized right.

The Hong Kong rights group says a Chinese academic, Lu Jianhua, is expected to face trial this week on the same charges as Ching. Lu's wife told Reuters her husband has decided not to seek legal representation