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 charges 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 associations 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. …