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Journalist Li Changqing, winner of WAN's Golden Pen award, freed after three years in jail; WAN calls for further releases

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN press release:

Golden Pen Winner Freed
WAN Welcomes Release of Chinese Journalist; Calls for Further Action

The World Association of Newspapers today welcomed the release from prison of Chinese journalist Li Changqing, the laureate of the 2008 WAN Golden Pen of Freedom, and called on Chinese authorities to release all imprisoned journalists before the Olympic Games in Beijing next summer.

Mr. Li, who was jailed three years ago for alerting the public to an outbreak of dengue fever before the authorities had announced it, was released on 2 February, according to information received by WAN.

"We are delighted that Mr. Li has been released from prison. He should never have been jailed in the first place, but rather congratulated for fine public interest journalism," said Timothy Balding, the Chief Executive Officer of the Paris-based WAN. "China remains the world's biggest jailer of journalists, and we are calling on the government to release all journalists before Beijing hosts the Olympic games in August."

At least 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents are held in Chinese prisons.

In its successful bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, China pledged to "follow international standards and criteria". But the authorities have yet to honour their pledge ­ in fact they continue to jail journalists and dissidents in the run-up the Games.

Mr. Li, a reporter and deputy news director of the Fuzhou Daily in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, was sentenced to three years in prison in January 2006, for "fabricating and spreading false information" after being detained without charges for nearly a year. The charges stem from a report on the 2004 outbreak of dengue fever in Fuzhou that was posted on Boxun News Network, a Chinese-language website based in the United States.

Due to censorship and restrictions imposed by the Communist Party Propaganda Department on sensitive social issues, no reports of the outbreak in Fuzhou of dengue, a viral, mosquito-borne disease, had been reported in the Chinese press. Nor had health officials officially announced the outbreak.

It is the second consecutive year that a Chinese journalist has received the Golden Pen of Freedom, an unprecedented decision that reflects the repressive conditions for media in China. The 2007 laureate was Shi Tao, the Chinese journalist who was imprisoned after the American search engine company Yahoo provided information to the Chinese authorities that led to his arrest.

The award will be presented to Mr. Li at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the summit meetings of the world's press, to be held in Göteborg, Sweden, from 1 to 4 June ( http://www.wansweden2008.com ).

The Golden Pen of Freedom has been awarded annually since 1961. More on the award can be found at http://www.wan-press.org/rubrique864.html

More information about WAN's campaign for the release of Chinese journalists can be found at http://www.wan-press.org/china/home.php

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspapers and newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.

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