SEAPA urges Beijing to release Singaporean journalist

1 June 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is deeply concerned by the detention in China of Singaporean journalist Ching Cheong, and said that — in the interest of fairness, transparency and civil rights — the Chinese government should release Mr. Ching as well as all details, circumstances, and rationale behind the Straits Times correspondent’s arrest.

Beijing this week announced the detention of Ching Cheong, chief China correspondent for the Straits Times of Singapore, on suspicions that he had spied for a foreign intelligence agency. No additional details were released.

Noting the broad and vague charges leveled against the journalist, SEAPA—a leading voice for press freedom in Southeast Asia—expressed fears that the journalist’s arrest as a spy could send a chilling message to all journalists covering China, for either domestic or foreign news services. SEAPA then added that Beijing should at the least ensure that “any criminal proceedings against the journalist would be carried out with deliberate fairness and transparency.”

Ching’s wife has dismissed the spying charges as absurd and suggested that the journalist was framed as he was collecting material for an investigative piece on disgraced late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.

“On April 22, Ching traveled to Guangzhou to secure from a middleman the manuscript of a second book about Zhao Ziyang by Zong Fengming. Ching Cheong was taken away by state security right there and then,” Ching’s wife was quoted by Radio Free Asia’s Mandarin Service.

RFA also reported that Hong Kong journalists are anxious over the detention of Ching, who himself is based in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said “the authorities, should they have evidence, (should) release them as quickly as possible, and deal with this in an open, fair, and lawful procedure and manner.”

“Any journalist could run into the same problems that Ching Cheong is now experiencing,” Kaifang magazine editor Cai Yongmei told RFA. “The biggest headache for us is that the Chinese Communist Party’s definition of what constitutes a state secret is really too broad. Anything they don’t what you to know is considered a state secret. This is a huge risk for anyone working in the news media. You might be engaged in normal newsgathering activities and suddenly find you’ve stepped on a landmine.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists says China has the most journalists in prison of any country in the world.
Ching, 55, is the second employee of a foreign media organization to be held by the Chinese government in a year. Last September, New York Times researcher Zhao Yan was arrested for allegedly revealing state secrets.

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