The recent trials of two journalists in China highlights once again the continuing repression of freedom of the press in that country.
Last week a court in Beijing sentenced Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist who worked for the Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, to five years in prison. In late August another journalist, Zhao Yan, a Beijing-based researcher for the New York Times, was sentenced to three years in prison.
In a written statement, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based monitoring group, said, "This sentence is appalling. Ching was tried in an unacceptable way on baseless charges." Mr. Ching was arrested in 2005 and charged with selling secret documents to agents from Taiwan. However, Chinese authorities refused to make public any evidence and held Ching for almost a year before trying him in secret and announcing a sentence.
Just a few weeks earlier in another Beijing courtroom, Zhao Yan was sentenced. He was detained in September 2004, also supposedly for "revealing state secrets." His arrest followed a report by the Times that former Chinese president Jiang Zemin would step down as Chairman of China's Central Military Commission, a report that later proved correct. The court dropped the state secrets charge due to a lack of evidence but instead convicted Zhao on charges of fraud. However, the fraud charges were only lodged against him after he had already been detained on the state secrets charge and were apparently based on events purported to have occurred years before.
According to Reporters Without Borders, more than eighty print and Internet journalists are currently imprisoned in China. China's vague secrecy laws permit materials not identified as secret -- including published media accounts -- to be retroactively classified and used against journalists and others. Josette Shiner, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural affairs, says the U.S. is committed to "ensuring maximum access to information" in China and elsewhere:
"We know throughout the world. . . .that the tools of repression, the tools of censorship, are many and varied."
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey says, "No one should suffer for simply expressing their views, for raising concerns about government policies, and for advocating for the redress of grievances."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.