updated 8/15/2006 9:19:25 AM ET 2006-08-15T13:19:25

A reporter accused of spying for Taiwan was put on trial in China’s capital Tuesday, Hong Kong television and a human rights activist said in reporting the latest in a string of espionage cases against people with overseas ties.

Ching Cheong, a correspondent for Singapore’s main English language newspaper, The Straits Times, was detained in April 2005, and state media later claimed he confessed to selling military secrets to Taiwan and setting up a spy network. His supporters say he is innocent.

Ching is a Hong Kong resident who carries a British passport and has permanent resident status in Singapore, according to the Singaporean government.

Ching went on trial in Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court, Hong Kong Cable TV reported, citing a court official. Frank Lu, a human rights activist in Hong Kong who runs a one-man news service, also said trial had begun.

An employee who answered the phone at the court and would give only her surname, Ren, would not confirm whether Ching was scheduled to stand trial.

Others arrested for espionage
A series of business executives, academics, journalists and political activists with overseas ties have been arrested by China in recent years on espionage charges.

Most have been accused of working for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own territory. The two sides split in 1949 amid civil war and are believed to spy actively on each other. Last week, China’s government disclosed that a former official of its social security agency was executed earlier this year on charges of spying for Taiwan.

Ching was detained during a visit to the southern city of Guangzhou. His wife, Mary Lau, said he was set up by an unnamed intermediary who said he could help get tapes of interviews with the late leader Zhao Ziyang, who was deposed after the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

Lau also said Ching may have been targeted because of his ties to a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank, who had access to confidential discussions between China’s leaders.

Telephone calls to Lau on Tuesday went unanswered.

Jailing journalists
The Hong Kong Journalists Association took out a full-page advertisement Tuesday in the Apple Daily newspaper expressing support for Ching. It said his family was denied permission to attend the trial.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called the case an example of China’s efforts to intimidate foreign media. The group also cited the case of Zhao Yan, a Chinese employee of The New York Times in Beijing tried in June on charges of leaking state secrets. No verdict has been announced in that case.

China is believed to have jailed more journalists than any other government, with 32 behind bars, mostly on charges of violating vague national security or subversion laws, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

U.S.-based activist Wang Bingzhang was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 on charges of spying for Taiwan and plotting to bomb the Chinese Embassy in Thailand.

Yang Jianli, a political activist who lived in Boston, was detained after visiting China in 2002 to meet with dissidents. He was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of spying for Taiwan and entering the mainland illegally.

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