Campaigning For The Release Of A Journalist p.

By: M.L. Stein Hong Kong journalists frustrated in their efforts to free
a colleague arrested in mainland China in the fall sp.

ADDING TO THEIR deep concern about the fate of the press when the colony comes under China's rule in 1997, Hong Kong journalists have been frustrated in their efforts to free one of their colleagues arrested on the mainland in September.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association is campaigning for the release of Xi Yang, a reporter at Ming Pao, a leading Chinese-language daily in Hong Kong.
According to the association, Xi, who was in China to report on its rural economy, was detained on "vaguely termed" security charges and held incommunicado for 10 days before a formal arrest was made.
Since then, the HKJA said, he has not been allowed to see members of his family, a lawyer or representatives of Ming Pao.
"We don't know where he is, what exactly he is charged with or whether there will be a prosecution," HKJA chairman Daisy Li Yuet-wah, an assistant Ming Pao editor, said in an interview in Hong Kong in January.
Xi, who was born in China and emigrated to Hong Kong, is considered a citizen of China, Li said.
The Chinese government-run New China News Agency, which maintains a bureau in Hong Kong, reported Xi's arrest but gave no details of the charges, only saying Chinese authorities said Xi "endangered the security of the state" and "caused serious consequences."
NCNA said Xi and his "contact," Tian Ye, an employee of the People's Bank of China, were arrested under the People's Republic of China State Security Law and charged with "stealing and espionage of state financial secrets."
The news agency said Xi and Tian had "candidly confessed" to the charg-es against them.
An HKJA statement speculated that the Chinese allegations probably referred to Xi's news gathering and added, "The authorities alleged at the same time that Xi's behavior was 'unrelated to the normal work of a journalist.' We were deeply puzzled by these contradictory allegations."
Li said Xi and Tian likely will be tried on espionage charges and, if convicted, could face a five-years-to-life prison term or even death. It's also likely that the trial will be held in secret, she continued.
The HKJA is pressing Chinese authorities for an open and fair trial of the pair and to allow the Hong Kong and international media to attend the proceedings.
Li said Xi, who works on the China desk of his paper, was seized when he left the Chinese countryside for Beijing, where his mother had died while he was on assignment.
She disclosed that HKJA sources in China reported that Xi had been followed each time he had gone to the mainland.
"This didn't come as a surprise to us," Li remarked. "When any of us goes to China, we just assume we will be followed. But the funny thing was that he was followed in such a way that they apparently wanted him to know that he was under surveillance."
Li said the Chinese government has not responded to the HKJA's letters of protest.
"They haven't even acknowledged receiving the letters," she added.
And the association's Beijing lawyer has not been allowed to meet with Xi, Li said. "He's been in almost absolute isolation for more than three months. Only his father was allowed a half-hour visit on condition that they not discuss the case."
The government of Hong Kong, through diplomatic channels, has "expressed concern" to Chinese officials about Xi's incarceration "but there is nothing they can do," Li noted. "Xi is considered a Chinese national and the British have no control over that."
She said Chinese-owned newspapers in Hong Kong can send reporters to China on short-term assignments but are not allowed to open bureaus there. The British-owned English-language dailies South China Post and Hong Kong Standard, however, are allowed to maintain Beijing bureaus, she noted. Hong Kong has 24 daily newspapers.
A European news correspondent, who did not want to be identified, said there is a belief in some Hong Kong media circles that the seizure of Li was a smokescreen to "browbeat" Ming Pao, a 120,000-circulation daily that has been in the forefront in demanding that China live up to its agreement with the British regarding democracy after 1997.
"China has not been happy with Ming Pao," he said.
While the HKJA seeks to free Xi, a mood of apprehension about 1997 hangs over Hong Kong's journalism establishment.
A 1993 report by the HKJA and London-based Article 19, a free-speech organization named for that article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, warned, "The auguries are not good. The now-familiar slogan of 'one country, two systems' has worn thin, and China's real intentions, according to many observers, were revealed in the actions taken in Hong Kong as well as on the mainland in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 massacre."
The report, titled Urgent Business: Hong Kong, Freedom of Expression and 1997, also scored the United Kingdom for what it called an "absence of commitment" to the need to protect human rights, including free speech and a free press.
Indeed, the report continued, Hong Kong journalists have "grave concerns . . . about an array of repressive colonial laws, which have been used selectively to suppress freedom of expression and which imperil the exercise of this right after 1997."
Britain is urged to begin discussions with China immediately to amend that country's Basic Law to allow a free flow of information. The Basic Law, which was enacted by China's National People's Congress in 1990, is scheduled to become Hong Kong's constitution July 1, 1997.
The report points out that final interpretation of the law will be determined by a committee of the National People's Congress, not Hong Kong's judiciary as advocated by the HKJA and Article 19.
There also is a feeling among some Hong Kong journalists that self-censorship is finding its way in the local media in anticipation of China's takeover.
Emily Lau, a past HKJA president, recently warned in the association's 25th-anniversary yearbook, "Hong Kong could lose its press freedom before 1997 in the face of China's increasingly relentless pressure on local journalists, some of whom are too spineless or too inexperienced to fight back . . . . In these turbulent and trying times, the colony needs a fearless, independent and vibrant news media to present the many sides of the negotiations between the British government and China."
Extolling Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten's efforts to move China toward democracy in the colony, Lau lambasted the news media for highlighting China's "anti-Patten propaganda and invective" and failing to "offer the troubled community high-quality, critical and analytical reporting."
Li also lamented what she said is the appearance of self-censorship in the Hong Kong press brought on by the timidity and fear of some owners and senior editors "who are more prepared to compromise. They are softening their position and not taking a stand on sensitive issues. There are fewer and fewer politically independent Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong."
She named her paper, Ming Pao, and the Hong Kong Economic Journal as two exceptions, although she said other papers occasionally are critical of China.
Robert Liu, Associated Press bureau chief in Hong Kong, said he has seen several local newspaper stories critical of China. "But generally, there seems to be a pattern of reporting both sides," he said. "However, there is a degree of uncertainty in the media here."
Terming a free press "the flag bearer of an advanced society," Thomas Yan, HKJA chairman in 1977-78 and a veteran Hong Kong journalist, predicted in the organization's anniversary publication that the press, with the encouragement of a public "increasingly demanding of information and truth, can live up to the challenges of these uncertain and changing times."
He said a free press is "of vital importance to the Hong Kong people."
Li added, "Whether a society can provide an environment in which journalists can freely and properly discharge their duties is not solely a question for the journalists themselves. Society as a whole has an obligation. We operate today within a complex web of interdependent morals and rights, which, if they are eroded or endangered, will certainly have consequences for how journalists function and for the important role we play."


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