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China releases NYT researcher from prison after three years

A Chinese researcher for the New York Times who was arrested on charges of revealing state secrets and later convicted of fraud was released Saturday after serving a three-year prison sentence.

On Saturday morning, Zhao Yan was greeted by family members and friends as he left a Beijing detention centre. He hugged his sister, daughter and others but said nothing to reporters. He later issued a statement thanking his family and the Times for their support.

Zhao Yan (left), a Chinese journalist jailed while working for the 'New York Times', is assisted by relatives carrying his belongings after he was released from the state security prison in Beijing September 15, 2007. Zhao Yan, who reported on citizens' rights and official abuses, was given three years' jail for fraud in August 2006 — a charge he denied. He was detained in 2004 on accusations that included leaking state secrets after the 'Times' reported that former president Jiang Zemin was likely to give up his post as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which he did shortly afterwards. (Claro Cortes IV/Reuters)

"These three years I have missed my family very much, especially my maternal grandmother, who is now more than 100 years old," the statement said. It said Zhao planned to make a longer statement later after spending time with friends and family.

Zhao, a news researcher at Beijing bureau of the New York Times and a former investigative reporter for the Beijing-based China Reform magazine, was detained on September 17, 2004, in Shanghai less than two weeks after the Times ran an article correctly predicting the retirement of President Jiang Zemin from his final leadership post, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Zhao was held under suspicion of “providing state secrets to foreigners,” a charge that denied him access to a lawyer for nine months after his initial detention, prolonged his pretrial detention, and cloaked his case in official secrecy. Leaked state security documents confirmed that Zhao was detained in connection with the September 7 article on Jiang’s retirement, but indicated that the sparse evidence against him consisted of only a brief handwritten note taken through unknown means from the Beijing office of the Times.

As the more serious charge faltered in court, the fraud charge was added in April 2005. After a series of delays, Zhao was tried in June 2006 in closed proceedings in which he was not permitted to call defense witnesses. He was finally convicted on August 25, 2006 of fraud charges stemming from an accusation that Zhao took 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) from a local official with the promise of helping him get released from a work camp in 2001, but in a very rare move for criminal cases brought to trial in China, acquitted him of the more serious state secrets charges due to “insufficient evidence.”

The Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, issued a statement welcoming Zhao's release. "We have said all along that Zhao Yan is an honorable, hard-working reporter whose only offense seems to have been practicing journalism," the statement said. "It is our expectation that Zhao Yan, having served his full three-year term, will now be able to resume his life and return to his chosen profession without restrictions."

Date posted: September 17, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 2458