Days after a Hong Kong reporter was released from a Chinese jail, another Chinese journalist has been freed. Yu Huafeng, an editor at the Southern Metropolis Daily, was released Friday after serving four years of a 12-year sentence for embezzlement. That conviction was seen by many as punishment for groundbreaking reporting his paper did on the SARS outbreak and on the beating death of a young man named Sun Zhigang while in police custody in Guangzhou. Yu’s release came three days after the freeing of Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter for the Singapore-based Straits Times who had served two years on a spying conviction. Another Chinese journalist, Fuzhou Daily editor Li Changqing, was released earlier this month. Li had been imprisoned for spreading false terrorist information in connection with an article that appeared on an overseas Chinese website. (See Roland Soong’s summary of that case here.)
What to make of China’s sudden leniency towards jailed journalists? Reporters Without Borders says it’s proof that aggressive campaigns for the release of prisoners can have results. But the rights group also notes the recent arrest and filing of charges against activist Hu Jia for “inciting the overthrow of the state” and the sentencing of Lu Gengsong, a writer in Hangzhou, to a four-year prison term on the same count. With less than 200 days to go to the Olympics, the authorities are clearly trying to put on a kinder face. But I wonder if the one in/one out style of jailing and release will help their image come August, or just make them seem capricious.