Journalists’ Group Says Chinese Editor Released Early From Prison

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A Chinese newspaper editor, imprisoned after aggressive reporting that was believed to have angered local officials, has been released three years before the end of his six-year sentence, a journalists’ advocacy group said.

Li Minying, a former editor and director of the Southern Metropolitan Daily, has quietly returned to his home in the southern province of Guangdong, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said late Monday.

The group said that Li was reported to be in good physical and psychological condition, but that he had expressed a wish not to speak to media.

Li was one of three Southern Metropolitan executives detained in 2004 after the newspaper reported on a young college graduate’s beating death while in detention. The report drew the central government’s attention and was considered a major embarrassment for local officials.

The newspaper also broke the news of a case of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, before Beijing reported it to the World Health Organization.

Yu Huafeng, the newspaper’s former chief editor, is still serving a six-year prison sentence. Its chief editor, Cheng Yizhong, was detained for five months but released without being indicted.

Embezzlement and graft charges against Li and Yu were widely believed to have been trumped up by vengeful local officials. More than 2,000 Chinese journalists later signed a petition calling for their release, in a bold challenge to Chinese media controls.

“Li spent three years of his life in prison after being unfairly convicted in order to punish him for being a bold and dynamic newspaper executive,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

“His release is very good news,” it said, calling for continuing efforts to get Yu released.

Yu had originally given a 12-year jail term for allegedly embezzling US$70,000 from the newspaper.

Li had been sentenced to 11 years on charges he took bribes totaling US$117,000. Both sentences were reduced on appeal.

Colleagues of the two said they had simply been distributing legitimate performance bonuses to the newspaper’s employees.

A woman who answered the phone at the Southern Metropolitan’s editorial offices said that she had no information about Li, and that he no longer works there.

“There is no longer any connection between us and Li,” said the woman, who declined to give her name or title.

An official reached by phone at Guangdong’s Panyu prison said he was unable to provide any news about released prisoners. The provincial Foreign Affairs Office did not immediately respond to faxed questions about the report.

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