SAN FRANCISCO (August 26, 2020) — Two Hong Kong residents, both former employees of the New China News Agency (Xinhua) and naturalized United Kingdom (UK) citizens, have been released from prisons in Guangdong Province after serving 17 years of their life sentences for spying for the UK.

Chan Yu Lam (aka Chen Yulin 陈瑜琳), a former official in Xinhua’s Foreign Affairs Department, was detained in January 2003 and subsequently convicted of espionage in March 2004. He was accused of handing over materials, including the Xinhua telephone directory and organization chart, to a British agent embedded in the Hong Kong police force. He is alleged to have accepted HK$200,000 (around US$20,000) in payment.

Chan’s life sentence was commuted in June 2007, and he was subsequently given multiple sentence reductions totaling 76 months. He served his sentence in Shaoguan Prison and was released on August 26, 2020.

Chan was a well-known official who played a prominent role in organizing events for the Marco Polo Club, a social group that brought together Chinese officials and prominent foreign diplomats, businesspeople, and journalists. He was known for his outgoing and self-confident manner. After resigning from Xinhua in 1993, he took up a senior position at Guangdong Investments. It was on a business trip to Shenzhen in January 2003 that he was taken into custody and placed in residential surveillance in a designated location. He was formally arrested in 2003 and tried in March 2004.

Less is known about Wei Pingyuan (魏平原). He was detained in late 2003 and subsequently convicted of counterrevolutionary espionage in 2004. He served his sentence in Meizhou Prison. He was released on August 20, 2020.

It is possible that Wei served in Xinhua under a different name. He worked in Xinhua’s department dealing with Taiwan. He was accused of recruiting Cai Xiaohong. Cai was the son of China’s Minister of Justice Cai Cheng and would go on to serve as Secretary General of China’s Central Liaison Office, which replaced Xinhua as China’s leading political organization after Hong Kong’s reversion to China in 1997. Cai Xiaohong was also convicted of espionage and given a 15-year sentence. Wei is said to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for handing over sensitive communications between Chinese officials in Hong Kong and Beijing.

Because both Chan Yu Lam and Wei Pingyuan allegedly committed their crimes before the 1997 handover, they were tried under the 1979 Criminal Law’s section on counterrevolution, amended in 1997 to remove counterrevolutionary crimes. They are believed to be among the last counterrevolutionaries to have served prison sentences in China. (Several remain in prison, including Jiang Cunde in Shanghai.) Their detentions took place in 2003, when national security legislation was being hotly debated in Hong Kong. At the time, Chinese officials accused Hong Kong of being a “nest of spies.”

The Chinese side refused to recognize their UK citizenship, meaning that neither man was granted consular protections, including consular visits.

Both men were convicted in closed trials, and both were given supplemental sentences of seven-year “deprivation of political rights” which they have begun serving outside of prison. Individuals deprived of political rights lose the rights to speech, press, assembly, and association. Although not required by law, they are nevertheless instructed to check in with public security bureaus on a regular basis.

Dui Hua has submitted dozens of lists with Chan and Wei’s names to the Chinese government. It first requested information on Chan Yu Lam in early 2004, more than 16 years ago. Dui Hua’s advocacy contributed to the release of both men.

“Chan Yu Lam has served more than 17 years in prison and he suffers from multiple health issues,” noted Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm. “Dui Hua hopes he will be permitted to serve his sentence of deprivation of political rights in Hong Kong, where he was born, and notes that this has been allowed in other cases.”

For questions, please contact Dui Hua at duihua [at] duihua [dot] org.