updated 5/15/2008 5:55:07 PM ET 2008-05-15T21:55:07

A Chinese journalist who wrote about suspected wrongdoing by local officials has been jailed for four years, one of his lawyers said Thursday.

Qi Chonghuai was sentenced Tuesday on charges of extortion and blackmail after a daylong trial in Tengzhou in Shandong province in northeastern China, lawyer Li Chunfu said.

Qi had been accused of extorting money from local officials during his reporting, but he denied the charges.

"Mentally he's stable, and he said he'll appeal," Li said, adding that he had visited Qi in detention Wednesday. Qi told his lawyers that two police officers banged his head against the floor during a midday break during the trial.

A freelance journalist who worked with Qi on his reports, He Yanjie, was also jailed Tuesday for two years on extortion and blackmail charges, Li said.

A phone call to Tengzhou City Court in Shandong province was not answered Thursday.

"The court's decision was merely based on 29 people's accounts, but all of them failed to show up at the court, which is a violation of the law," Li said. "I believe they don't dare to show up because their accounts are full of faults."

Qi's wife, Jiao Xia, shouted a sarcastic comment during a midday break in the trial and was immediately taken out of the courtroom, Li said. She shouted, "Well done, Qi! You have blackmailed the government and police!" After she was removed, Qi protested and was taken out as well, Li said.

Many journalists jailed
At least 26 Chinese journalists are in prison in China for their work, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement released Tuesday in support of Qi.

"We condemn Qi Chonghuai's sentence and the brutal treatment he has received throughout his detention," CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said in the statement.

China jails the largest number of journalists, cyber dissidents, Internet users and activists for freedom of expression, a report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in February.

Qi wrote for several print and online media. He was arrested in June 2007 soon after writing a story saying a Tengzhou official had beaten a woman for coming late to work and after posting photos on a state-run anti-corruption Web site of a fancy Tengzhou government building, the CPJ statement said.

Qi's article on the beating was published by the Web site of Epoch Times, a U.S.-based newspaper linked to the banned Chinese sect Falun Gong, the CPJ statement said.

Qi said he was beaten and threatened during his detention after being arrested in August 2007, a statement from the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders released Wednesday said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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