HK media jittery after China jails journalist

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HONG KONG - Journalists here said yesterday that they would be more wary about doing their job after China confirmed that one of their colleagues has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of stealing state secrets.

Xi Yang, a reporter for the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, was sentenced last Tuesday and stripped of his political rights for two years, said Fan Shumin, spokeswoman for the Peking High People's Court. She said Xi had already appealed against the sentence.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association protested both at the severity and the unaccept ability of the sentence.

Ming Pao, a Chineselanguage daily, said it would back Xi's appeal and denounced the verdict as 'deplorable and very regrettable'.

Xi, who was born in China and worked for Ming Pao's China desk, was detained last September and charged with stealing secrets about interest- rate changes and gold sales.

He was the second Hong Kong-based journalist detained on such charges in a year. These cases have shaken the lively Hong Kong media, which fear censorship after China recovers sovereignty of the colony in 1997.

'Chinese authorities wish to use Xi Yang's case as a warning to journalists in Hong Kong that they could face similar fates if they do not behave themselves,' a Journalists' Association statement said.

Tian Ye, an official at the People's Bank of China and Xi's co-defendant, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the association said. The vice- chairman, Kevin Lau, predicted that reporters 'will be much more careful in how they deal with sensitive information. But there is no guarantee, because the line is so arbitrary that you don't know when you will cross (it).'

Xi, 38, was tried in secret and his relatives were informed of the verdict by telephone last Friday, four days after sentencing, Ming Pao said in a statement. It said Xi was denied access to his employers and a lawyer, and was allowed just one 30-minute meeting with his father. China said the secrecy was necessary because the case involved state secrets.

Daisy Lee, the Journalists' Assocation's chairwoman, said it was unclear how Xi would appeal. 'The whole trial was so secretive it was just like putting somebody into a dark box and then saying he committed such a crime and he deserved so many years sentencing,' she told reporters.

Martin Lee, chairman of the colony's United Democrats, said he would urge Hong Kong's 60-member legislature to a endorse a letter to be sent to Chinese leaders in protest at Xi's treatment.

PEKING - The family of China's most famous dissident, Wei Jingsheng, said yesterday it was afraid he was still being detained, three days after the Peking police said he had been questioned and left their offices, AFP reports.

The official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday that the Peking Public Security Bureau 'had a conversation with Wei on Friday and he left the bureau immediately'. The Bureau said yesterday that it knew 'nothing of this affair' and refused to say how long Mr Wei's most recent arrest lasted.

(Photograph omitted)