Arrested on false charges of spying, Ching Cheong served three years in a Chinese prison, reports Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist who became an international cause célèbre when he was arrested on dubious charges of spying in China in 2005 and sentenced to five years in prison, has retired to write a book giving his observations on 35 years in journalism.

Ching was freed in January 2008 and returned to his job as China bureau chief for the Straits Times of Singapore. The arrest was the first of a Hong Kong journalist after the handover of the former British colony in 1997. Given the unwillingness or inability of the Hong Kong government to intervene, the case was deeply unsettling to the territory’s press establishment.

It was also an embarrassment for Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who had been careful not to offend Beijing, and for the Hong Kong government because it tested the edge of the vaunted one country, two systems slogan that is supposed to guarantee civil liberties in the former colony. To this day, Chinese reporters in Hong Kong — whether mainlanders or Hong Kongers — are unsure whether they might be turned over to Chinese authorities for journalistic transgressions.

Tsang was criticized during his election campaign for refusing to see Ching’s wife when she requested a meeting to ask for his help. During Ching’s incarceration, however, the Hong Kong Security Bureau contacted his wife once or twice a week with updates on her husband’s case.

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