China Tightens its Grip on Media
Beijing formally arrested the 55-year-old, Hong Kong chief correspondent for Singapore’s, The Straits Times, Ching Cheong, on August 5, on a charge of spying for Taiwan.
Ching Cheong was arrested in Guangzhou in April 22 while trying to obtain recordings of secret interviews with former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang.
The Chinese foreign ministry announced on May 31 that Ching had confessed to being a “spy in the pay of foreign agencies,” that Ching passed “top secret and confidential” documents on China’s political, economic and military affairs to Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, under the name of Chen Yuan-chun.
Ching Cheong is facing a possible life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
Ching Cheong was born in China. He holds a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport as well as a British National (Overseas) one. He is also a Singapore permanent resident.
Ching’s case has sparked fears that Beijing is tightening its noose over media freedom. Ching is the second journalist employed by a foreign newspaper to be detained in China. New York Times contributor, Zhao Yan, was arrested by Chinese authorities in October 2004 and accused of “divulging state secrets”.
The management of The Straits Times said it was shocked at these accusations. Irene Ngoo, spokeswoman for Singapore Press Holdings that owns The Strait Times, requested that Ching be represented by their lawyer during his trial.
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor criticised Beijing for not presenting any evidence against Ching Cheong before arresting him. It said the process had not been fair as he did not have a lawyer and any confession was probably made under threat.
According to the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists, China had the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world for the sixth year running in 2004. At least 42 reporters are known to be behind bars in the mainland.
So far, the Taiwanese government has made no comments on the case.