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NYT researcher will stand trial in China

A Chinese researcher for the New York Times was indicted Friday for revealing state secrets to the newspaper and on a lesser charge of fraud, a move that should send the case to trial within six weeks, his lawyer said.

The indictment signified a decision by prosecutors to proceed with a trial of 43-year-old Zhao Yan, after 15 months of investigation by the State Security Ministry during which Zhao remained in custody. Zhao's attorney, Mo Shaoping, said the trial likely would be held within six weeks. Zhao, who had denied the charges, could face a minimum of 10 years in prison.

UNDER CHINESE TRIAL: Zhao had been in hiding for several days after learning that he was under suspicion, but was caught by police in a restaurant in Shanghai within moments of turning on his mobile telephone to make a call, to report the presence of a cockroach in his food. He had previously told friends that he was keeping the telephone turned off as he believed the police used it to monitor his whereabouts.

"We regret that the (Chinese) government turned a deaf ear to the many calls for the release of this respected journalist. At least, after 15 months of detention, Zhao is going to be able to defend himself in court against the baseless charges brought against him by the Chinese authorities. We hope, at the very least, that the trial will be fair and that foreign observers and the press will be able to attend," Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said.

"This an extremely disturbing development in a case that focuses world attention on China's atrocious treatment of the press," said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Ann Cooper. "We deplore the prosecution of Zhao Yan which is intended to stifle independent reporting on China's leadership. We call on the authorities to drop the prosecution and free Zhao immediately."

"For Zhao Yan's colleagues, family and friends, this is deeply disheartening," New York times Executive Editor Bill Keller said. He lobbied with China's Foreign Ministry on Zhao's behalf during an October visit to Beijing. "We've seen no evidence whatsoever that he is guilty of anything but honest journalism," Keller said.

Zhao's arrest is directly linked to a September 7, 2004, article in the New York Times that revealed that former Chinese President Jiang Zemin had unexpectedly offered to resign his last leadership post as head of the military. The ruling Communist Party is acutely sensitive to any reporting on the secretive inner-workings of top leaders. The New York Times ran the news as a scoop shortly before a key Communist Party conference at which the decision was to be made public.

Zhao had been in hiding for several days after learning that he was under suspicion, but was caught by police in a restaurant in Shanghai within moments of turning on his mobile telephone to make a call, to report the presence of a cockroach in his food. He had previously told friends that he was keeping the telephone turned off as he believed the police used it to monitor his whereabouts.

Zhao, once an investigative reporter with the magazine China Reform, who exposed official corruption and wrote about the abuses endured by farmers, started working in the Times' office in Beijing in April 2004.

Zhao was chosen in December to receive the prize which Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) and Fondation de France jointly award every year to a journalist who has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to press freedom in his work, in the views he has expressed publicly, or in a stance he has taken.

SUCH TIMES: Zhao's arrest is directly linked to a September 7, 2004, article in the New York Times that revealed that former Chinese President Jiang Zemin had unexpectedly offered to resign his last leadership post as head of the military. NYT ran the news as a scoop shortly before a key Communist Party conference at which the decision was to be made public.

His arrest, part of a broader media crackdown, has brought China widespread international condemnation. This month, US President George W Bush included Zhao on a list of troubling human-rights cases that he handed to Chinese President Hu Jintao during their meeting in Beijing. Zhao's name was also on a US list of imprisoned Chinese that was handed to Hu during a meeting between Hu and Bush in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Shaoping said the belaboured manner in which the case was handled underscored its controversial nature and may indicate uncertainty by prosecutors. Twice, prosecutors in Beijing sent the case back to the State Security Bureau for further investigation. Under Chinese law, Friday marked the last working day for prosecutors to decide whether to go forward with the case. According to RSF, Zhao has lost 10 kilos in weight.

According to a confidential state security report, the New York Times reported, the key piece of evidence is a photocopy of a handwritten note that Zhao wrote to Joseph Kahn, the New York Times' Beijing bureau chief, two months before the article's publication. The note describes jockeying between Jiang and Hu over military appointments. The New York Times has said of the two anonymous sources cited regarding Jiang's resignation offer, neither was Zhao.

Date posted: December 25, 2005 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 2442