CHINA: Wife visits jailed HK journalist

Authorities grant jailed journalist Ching Cheong's family a 30-minute visit for the Lunar New Year

Taipei Times
Monday, February 19, 2007

The wife of a Hong Kong journalist jailed in China for espionage has met with her husband for the first time in almost two years, his employer said in Singapore yesterday.

The Straits Times said the meeting between its chief China correspondent Ching Cheong and his wife, Mary Lau, took place on Friday in a Guangzhou prison, where the journalist is serving a five-year jail term for espionage.

Two of the 57-year-old Ching's siblings were also present for the 30-minute meeting, the newspaper reported.

The visit -- just ahead of the start of the Lunar New Year -- came as an "unexpected surprise" for Lau as she had been told last week that the earliest she could visit Ching would be next month, the newspaper said.

"I almost could not believe my ears when I heard it," she said, explaining that she had received a call on Thursday from the Hong Kong Security Bureau, informing her that a visit had been allowed for the next day.

"For a while, I did not know how to react, and I could not sleep much that night as I was looking forward to seeing Ching," she said.

Ching was arrested in April 2005 and sentenced to five years in jail last year for spying for Taiwan, following a one-day, closed-door trial. An appeal was later dismissed.

The journalist, wearing a dark blue prison uniform, cried when he saw his siblings and repeatedly asked them to look after his elderly parents, according to Lau.

"He looked healthy, even though he has a lot more wrinkles now, especially across his forehead, and is so skinny now," she was quoted as saying.

"He also asked us how we were doing and told us not to worry about him. I am just so relieved to have seen him at last," she said.

Ching's case has attracted international attention, highlighting fears China is cracking down against foreign and domestic journalists in the run-up to next year's Olympic Games in Beijing.

Lau thanked Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, noting that the security officer who spoke to her said the notification of approval of the meeting had come through Tsang's office.

"I am thankful to both him and the Guangzhou authorities for making it possible for us to have a reunion before the Chinese New Year," Lau said.

The couple had not seen each other since April 2005, when Ching was detained.

Lau said the family will continue to appeal for Ching to receive medical parole as he suffers from high blood pressure and insomnia, among other ailments, the Straits Times said.