Dan Kubiske, co-chair, SPJ International Journalism Committee, Dan@kubiske.org
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists strongly protests, mainland China’s detention of Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, chief East Asia Correspondent for the Straits Times of Singapore. In talking this position, we join with our colleagues in the Greater China area who have also expressed grave concern at the Chinese government’s action.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is accusing Ching of espionage, although no formal charges have yet been levied. This in no way absolves the government of the violations being done to his rights. Ching was reportedly taken into custody on or about April 22 and has been held since without benefit of legal assistance. It was not until May 31, after Western news organizations reported his detention that the Chinese government officially acknowledged in a statement that they were holding him.
Ching Cheong is a respected journalist with more than 30 years of reporting on the region for newspapers and magazines. He is well known in Hong Kong and Greater China as a serious journalist of strong personal integrity. The Straits Times has rejected the accusations of spying and stands by him.
Ching left Hong Kong to meet a source in nearby Guangzhou city. When he did, he left behind the legal protections enjoyed in Hong Kong and entered mainland China, where arbitrary detention and arrest are commonplace. This may be the first time a non-mainland Chinese journalist has been detained for alleged espionage while engaged in legitimate reporting. We further note that China leads the world in the number of journalists held in various forms of detention, or suffering other forms of punishment. We note that an accusation was finally made against Ching only after he had spent more than a month at the hands of security officials.
The Hong Journalists Association and Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong have urged that Ching be immediately released and returned to Hong Kong pending any legal actions against him. SPJ support this.
In the unfortunate event of prosecution, China should fully respect its own laws and Constitution, and abide by the international agreements it has initialed. The authorities should clearly spell out any charges against him and grant him access to proper legal representation. Any trial should be open, fair and transparent.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.