June 30, 2005

Chinese journalists appeal for colleagues’ release

By John Ruwitch

BEIJING (Reuters) - More than 2,300 Chinese journalistshave signed a letter challenging a provincial court to releasetwo colleagues jailed on corruption charges they say weretrumped up after a series of hard-hitting stories.

The letter, dated June 8, said Yu Huafeng and Li Minying ofthe outspoken Southern Metropolis Daily were innocent andcalled on the Guangdong People's High Court to bring justice.

"We believe it is an unjust case and Yu Huafeng and LiMinying are innocent," said the letter posted on thechinadigitaltimes.net, a Web site affiliated with thejournalism school at University of California, Berkeley.

"A few among us will speak on behalf of the whole group tocontinue to advocate until we see justice served in this case.We firmly believe it is just a matter of time until justicewill prevail. And we believe that sooner is better than later."

Southern Metropolis, part of a family of progressive papersbased in the southern province of Guangdong, was first withnews in 2003 of the death of a man in police custody, a casethat sparked popular outrage and led to reform of the detentionsystem used to control migrant workers.

It was also at the forefront in reporting on Severe AcuteRespiratory Syndrome (SARS), which ultimately led to thesacking of the Beijing mayor and the health minister in 2003.

The corruption case has drawn heavy fire from critics whosay the sentences were fabricated as a warning to the media notto be too aggressive in investigative reporting.

The Chinese Communist Party keeps a watchful eye on themedia and has been accused of using criminal charges to keep incheck papers that push the editorial envelope.

Last year, Yu, former manager of Southern Metropolis Daily,had his jail term pared to eight years in an appeal against aMarch 2003 ruling that condemned him to 12 years in prison fortaking bribes. The 11-year sentence handed to Li, thenewspaper's former editor-in-chief, was cut to six years.

The letter was signed by 2,356 journalists from variouspapers and news organizations.

Yu's wife, Xiang Li, confirmed the letter and said it cameafter the court failed to reply within the requisite six monthsto an appeal she filed on her husband's behalf. She said May 12was the deadline.

"I think this is one of the reasons his colleagues from thenews agencies were so incensed," she said on Thursday. "Therestill hasn't been a response."

Xiang, who sees Yu in prison once a month and said he is infair condition, said she was optimistic he would be releasedbefore his sentence was up because others connected to the casehad not been sentenced.

Cheng Yizhong, also a former editor at Southern Metropolis,was held for five months in detention without ever beingcharged, but was freed last August.

Xiang said she came to Beijing with Yu's lawyer on May 20to petition the government over the case, but got no response.