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Beijing Frees Reporter 'Spy'

Imprisoned as a spy for Taiwan, Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong is released after serving about half of a five-year sentence

The release of Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong from Chinese prison today [Feb. 5] is wonderful news for him and his family [and his newspaper, the Singapore Straits Times.] But don't for one minute think that it reflects a wider trend of loosening by Beijing on dissidents. If anything, the government is clamping down even more in the lead up to the Olympics.

According to Human Rights Watch, China is still holding 28 journalists, and hundreds of other dissidents, who have been tried and convicted under various ambiguous charges. One of the most egregious recent examples of this was the high profile arrest of Chinese blogger Hu Jia at the end of December. More than one month after 30 policemen seized him from his Beijing home, his family was finally notified on Jan 31 that he was being held "on charges of inciting subversion of state power."

Can someone please tell me that the internet musings of this long-time HIV/AIDS activist and champion of human rights and protection of the environment can be viewed as an enemy of the state? As is common in such cases, Hu's lawyer has been denied access to him, or to any other matters of the trial, ensuring a speedy conviction.

Indeed, Human Rights Watch, though delighted with Ching's release [he was freed on parole after serving nearly 1000 days of a five year sentence as "a spy for the Taiwanese"], says it doesn't bode well for others who are still languishing behind bars. "Ching Cheong's release is a one-off," says Phelim Kine, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. "The Chinese government has no plans to loosen controls on civil society and media and provide types of freedoms explicit and implicit in the Olympic charter." Sadly, that's exactly the message Hu got arrested trying to spread.

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