A Taiwanese businessman was convicted in a Thai court Thursday of illegally hosting a radio station that broadcast uncensored news to listeners in China and sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years, his lawyer said.
Chiang Yung-hsin and his lawyer appeared at Chiang Mai provincial court, 720 kilometers (450 miles) north of Bangkok, Thursday morning to hear the verdict on the charges of “possession and use of an unlicensed transmitter” and “setting up an unlicensed radio station.”
“The court sentenced him to 8 months in jail but suspended the penalty for two years and fined him 60,000 baht ($2,000),” Chiang’s lawyer, Tawat Wipanguean, told BenarNews.
“In other words, the court believes he knew about the station. Luckily he was not jailed," Tawat said. “Now he becomes a convict but he stays out of jail due to the suspension and becomes persona non grata."
Chiang, 52, was indicted in January on charges of setting up the station without a permit for Sound of Hope (SOH), a San Francisco-based radio network that was founded by Falun Gong, a religious movement banned in China, according to court documents.
Chiang consistently denied the charges in a case that played out amid claims that Beijing pressured Thai authorities to shut down the station.
Tawat told BenarNews that Chiang “will go back to Taiwan and discuss with his family what to do next.”
“He has not seen his wife for over a year now. We have a month to appeal but if he doesn’t come back again, we won’t appeal the case,” he said.
A court official confirmed the verdict was read Thursday morning but the court declined to reveal the verdict to the public. An assistant of Chiang said he was not comfortable commenting on the case.
Thailand strictly controls radio and TV stations as well as prohibiting broadcasts in foreign languages, except for pre-approved items, to neighboring countries, according to broadcast experts.
Founded in 1992 in China’s northeast, the Falun Gong spiritual movement gained increasing influence as the fastest-growing religion in the PRC and overseas during the next seven years. In 1999 the Chinese government at the orders of then-President Jiang Zemin began a harsh and sometimes deadly crackdown on the sect, dragging practitioners from their homes and sending them to detention centers.
Outside of China, the movement was considered harmless and continued to flourish. It is often cited as an example of religious persecution in China, with practitioners and allied religious-freedom advocates holding protests in major cities to bring attention to the situation faced by Falun Gong believers in the PRC.