Freed China reporter to win press freedom award

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BEIJING, Sep 25 (Reuters) A US-based press freedom watchdog is to honour a Chinese reporter who spent years behind bars after exposing a fraudulent irrigation project, the group said in a statement today.

Gao Qinrong, who worked for China's official Xinhua news agency, was sentenced to 12 years in jail at a closed trial in 1999 after exposing a huge Potemkin irrigation project in his arid home province of Shanxi.

The project was non-operational and consisted of a few tanks that were not linked to any irrigation pipes. It was intended to attract funds to government coffers and boost the careers of local cadres.

Gao was released after serving eight years, but the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said he was still struggling to regain the right to work as a reporter in China, where prisoners are commonly deprived of certain rights and freedoms even after their release.

He will be honoured with a 2007 International Press Freedom Award in New York in November, along with three other journalists from around the world.

Despite promises from the government to allow freer reporting in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China maintains strict controls over domestic media, blocks access to some overseas Web sites and is the world's leading jailer of journalists.

Reuters KK VP0740

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