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China jails journalist for fabricating alarmist info

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court has sentenced a journalist to three years in prison for fabricating and spreading alarmist information about a 2004 outbreak of dengue fever in the southeastern province of Fujian, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Li Changqing, a one-time senior journalist at the official Fuzhou Daily, has decided to appeal against the ruling meted out by the People's Court in Fuzhou's Gulou district on Tuesday, Attorney Mo Shaoping said by telephone.

"The verdict evaded key facts and was greatly influenced by factors outside the law," Mo told Reuters, hinting at persecution by authorities in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province.

Court officials reached by telephone declined to comment. Li's wife could not immediately be reached.

China was the world's leading jailer of journalists in 2005 for the seventh consecutive year with 32 behind bars, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Communist Party has tightened its hold over the media, the Internet, non-governmental organisations, lawyers, academics and dissidents to prevent "colour revolutions" along the lines of popular protests which toppled dictatorships in post-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine in recent years.

When Li was first detained in 2004, he was charged with "inciting to subvert state power" for publicising the plight of Huang Jin'gao, who wore a bullet-proof vest for years while fighting corruption as Communist Party boss of Lianjiang county in Fujian.

Huang was sentenced to life in prison for corruption last November, but supporters say embarrassed local authorities trumped up charges against him after the People's Daily Web site published a letter in 2004 in which he accused his bosses of blocking corruption investigations.

The charge against Li was subsequently changed and he was convicted on Tuesday of fabricating and spreading false information for reporting for the U.S.-based Chinese-language news portal Boxun (www.boxun.com) that an outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease had infected more than 100 people in Fujian in 2004, Mo said.

Fuzhou authorities kept silent about the epidemic for one month before announcing that 94 people had been infected.

"The figure may be slightly off, but it doesn't constitute a crime," Mo said.

The Fuzhou Daily is the mouthpiece of the city government. Chinese reporters are banned from writing for Boxun, which is blocked in China.

(Additional reporting by Vivi Lin)

Date posted: January 25, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 8