The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed at the recent detention of Zhao Yan, a news assistant at the New York Times Beijing bureau and a former reporter for Beijing-based China Reform magazine.
Zhao was detained in Shanghai on September 17. Zhao’s lawyer Mo Shaoping has been unable to contact him, according to international news reports, and authorities have not responded to inquiries by the New York Times about the reason for his arrest.
On September 21, Zhao’s family received a notice from the Beijing State Security Bureau accusing Zhao of “providing state secrets to foreigners,” according to international news reports. Mo said these allegations could lead to a charge of treason, a crime punishable by execution.
The arrest followed an article in the New York Times revealing Jiang Zemin’s plan to retire from the position of chairman of the Central Military Commission. The September 7 article preceded the official announcement of the final transfer of leadership to Your Excellency on September 19 and cited unnamed sources with ties to leadership.
Zhao’s associates have speculated that the journalist is under investigation as the source of the leak. But New York Times foreign editor Susan Chira has said that Zhao, who worked as a researcher and not as a reporter, did not provide any state secrets to the newspaper.
Zhao began working at the New York Times in May after he was forced out of his job as a reporter for China Reform magazine. Police harassed Zhao on multiple occasions this year after he reported aggressively for the Beijing-based magazine on government abuse of peasants across China. In June, police raided Zhao’s family home. According to the New York-based organization Human Rights in China, the raid startled Zhao’s elderly father and precipitated a decline in his health; he died a few days later. Zhao has also worked as a political activist.
Mo said that Zhao’s recent detention may be unrelated to his former work, according to the Los Angeles Times.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ is gravely concerned about Zhao’s detention. CPJ believes that Zhao has been unjustly detained, and that his work as a news assistant for the New York Times has not violated state security. In addition, his continued detention has a chilling effect on all journalists in China.
We urge Your Excellency to do everything in your power to ensure that Zhao is released immediately and unconditionally. We also urge you to allow both foreign and Chinese journalists to conduct their work without fear of detention and harassment.
Thank you for your attention.