China plays its press card with Hong Kong

The unpredictable nature of China's legal system was again exposed at the weekend when Peking unexpectedly paroled a Hong Kong newspaper journalist who had served three years of a 12-year sentence for "stealing state secrets".

When the harsh sentence was originally passed on Xi Yang, it was interpreted as a blunt warning to Hong Kong reporters that the territory's press freedoms did not extend to the mainland.

Saturday's release of Mr Xi was similarly seen as a political decision, this time an attempt by Peking to try to calm the mood in the colony after a week of rising anger over China's plans to scrap key parts of the Bill of Rights after 1 July.

Mr Xi, a mainlander living in Hong Kong, was arrested in October 1993 after writing an article for his newspaper, Ming Pao, about China's interest-rate policy and planned gold sales. In many countries it would have been considered a scoop, but Mr Xi was tried and sentenced in March 1994.

There was no news at the weekend on the fate of Tian Ye, a People's Bank of China official who was sentenced to 15 years for providing information to Mr Xi, but he is unlikely to have received similar leniency.

The Chinese government maintains that the judicial system is completely independent of the government, but several well-timed releases in recent years have occurred at politically advantageous moments. In 1993, just before the international vote to decide whether Peking would host the year 2000 Olympics, China's leading pro-democracy activist, Wei Jingsheng, was paroled. The following year, in the run-up to Washington's decision whether to renew China's most- favoured nation trading status, the activist Chen Ziming was let out of prison.

This time, the official Xinhua news agency said Mr Xi had been freed on probation because he "showed signs of repentance".

Having decided to release him, the Chinese authorities moved swiftly. Ming Pao's chief editor was told on Thursday that a release might come "fairly soon". On Saturday morning, Mr Xi was informed that he was being paroled, and by the evening was back in Hong Kong.

The release was welcomed in Hong Kong from both ends of the political spectrum. But its seemingly arbitrary nature is unlikely to put people's minds at rest about human-rights protections and freedom of the press after Hong Kong returns to China in five months. The Hong Kong Journalists Association called Mr Xi's parole a positive signal, but added: "We always believed Xi Yang was doing his job as a professional journalist and his imprisonment was unwarranted."

Earlier this month a Chinese court refused parole for Gao Yu, 52, a mainland journalist who in 1994 was sentenced to six years for articles she wrote for the Hong Kong media. Ms Gao is suffering from heart and ear ailments. Peking's tolerance for journalists who stray from the official line remains virtually zero. President Jiang Zemin recently described reporters as "engineers of the human soul".

In keeping with this approach, China yesterday published new directives for China's journalists on how to report news - to promote patriotism, collectivism and socialism, "uphold the truth in news", and also protect the secrets of the party and the state.

As Mr Xi discovered, those who misjudge what the government considers secret will pay a heavy price.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before