China Releases Investigative Reporter Whose Jailing Had Upset U.S.

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

BEIJING, Jan. 3 -- The Chinese government released a prominent investigative reporter from prison Tuesday, even as it has been intensifying a crackdown on the press. The early release appeared intended to mollify the Bush administration, which had included the journalist on a short list of political prisoners whose cases it raises regularly with Chinese officials.

Jiang Weiping, 50, who spent the last five years in prison after writing a series of hard-hitting articles on government corruption for a magazine in Hong Kong, was granted a sentence reduction for good behavior and released one year before his term was set to end, according to his wife, Li Yanling.

Several human rights groups had campaigned for Jiang's release, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which honored him with its international press freedom award in 2001.

The release was the first of a prominent political prisoner by the Chinese government in more than nine months. It came several weeks after U.S. officials expressed frustration over China's failure to free a prisoner as a gesture of goodwill in advance of President Bush's visit to Beijing in November.

Jiang was on a list of 13 prisoners that U.S. officials handed the Chinese during a 2002 meeting between Bush and Jiang Zemin, China's president at the time. Senior U.S. officials pressed for the prisoner's release in several subsequent meetings, and the U.S. ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt Jr., raised the case in speeches.

John Kamm, executive director of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which lobbies Chinese officials on behalf of political prisoners, said the decision could signal a new readiness by the Chinese government to address U.S. criticism of its human rights record after a period in which it appeared unwilling to make concessions.

Jiang Weiping, a former bureau chief for the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Hui Bao, was arrested in December 2000 after writing a series of articles for the magazine Frontline that exposed corruption among senior officials in the northeastern province of Liaoning. He was then sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets and inciting subversion. A higher court later reduced the sentence to six years.

Jiang's supporters said he was targeted by party officials upset by his reporting, which helped uncover some of China's largest and most colorful corruption cases in recent memory. He reported, for example, that one local mayor used state money to buy apartments for 29 mistresses, and that another official lost nearly $3.6 million in public funds in casinos in Macau. That official was later arrested and executed.

Jiang also reported that one of the Communist Party's rising stars, Bo Xilai, covered up corruption among friends and relatives during his years as mayor of the city of Dalian. Bo, who is the son of the party elder Bo Yibo, was serving as the Liaoning governor when Jiang's reports were published, and is now China's trade minister.

Jiang's release came as the government has been stepping up a crackdown on freedom of expression that began nearly two years ago. Last week, Liaoning authorities upheld the conviction of Zheng Yichun, an Internet essayist, who has been sentenced to seven years in prison for writing articles criticizing the government. The same day, propaganda officials fired the editor in chief of one of the nation's most daring newspapers, the Beijing News, prompting as many as 100 journalists there to stage a one-day strike.

Last month, prosecutors concerned about the release of state secrets indicted a researcher for the New York Times, Zhao Yan, on charges related to his reporting for the newspaper. Prosecutors were also expected to make a decision this week about whether to pursue a case against a Singaporean journalist, Ching Cheong, who has been detained since April on suspicion of espionage.

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