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China charges journalist with espionage: media rights group

#China #charges #journalist #espionage #media #rights #group

Chinese authorities have formally charged a prominent journalist with spying, over a year after he was detained while having lunch with a Japanese diplomat, a media rights group said.

Dong Yuyu, a senior columnist at the Communist Party newspaper Guangming Daily, was detained in February 2022 along with the diplomat at a Beijing restaurant, according to a statement issued by his family on Monday and seen by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The diplomat was released after a few hours of questioning, the Japanese foreign ministry said last year.

But Dong, 61, has been in custody since. Last month, his family was told that he will “face trial for espionage”, the CPJ said, citing the family statement.

“His family didn’t share any details about his detention with the public for more than a year, because they feared it would affect the outcome,” a former colleague told AFP.

“They hoped the trumped-up charges will be dropped.”

It is unclear when Dong’s trial will take place.

Under Chinese law, someone convicted of espionage can be jailed for three to 10 years for less severe cases or receive heavy punishment including life imprisonment for serious cases.

Calls by AFP to the Guangming Daily office and the state prosecutor’s office in Beijing went unanswered.

Dong’s work has been published in the Chinese editions of The New York Times and the Financial Times.

He won the prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 2006-2007. He was a visiting fellow at Keio University in Japan in 2010 and a visiting professor at Hokkaido University in 2014.

“Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release… Dong Yuyu and allow journalists to do their jobs reporting on China’s domestic and foreign affairs,” said CPJ’s China representative Iris Hsu.

“Speaking to foreign diplomats is crucial to journalists covering international news,” Hsu added.

“Going as far as trying Dong for espionage is absurd and cruel.”

Civil liberties and freedom of expression have dramatically receded in China under President Xi Jinping’s decade-long tenure.

The Communist Party maintains tight restrictions on domestic media outlets and Chinese nationals that work with foreign outlets are routinely harassed. 

China is the second-worst country for jailing media workers — after Iran — with 48 journalists behind bars as of December, according to a CPJ ranking.

Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was detained in May 2020 for her coverage of China’s initial response to the Covid outbreak in Wuhan.

And earlier this month, two prominent Chinese human rights lawyers, including one who had called for Xi to resign, were jailed for more than a decade.

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