China: New York Times researcher tried in Beijing court

New York, June 16, 2006—Zhao Yan, a researcher for the Beijing bureau of The New York Times, was tried today in closed proceedings on charges of leaking state secrets and fraud, 22 months after he was first detained in Shanghai. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for an end to his unjust imprisonment.

No verdict was issued after the eight-hour hearing, during which no witnesses were called, Agence France-Presse said. Zhao testified in his own defense, Reuters reported.

“Zhao Yan was thrown in jail for his work as a reporter helping the world to better understand what is happening in China,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

“China’s actions in this case highlight the contradictions in a country that wants global trade and investment without global scrutiny.”

Zhao was detained in September 2004, just days after The Times reported on a transition in China’s leadership, correctly predicting that Jiang Zemin would retire from his post as chairman of the Central Military Commission. He was later charged with leaking state secrets, but his colleagues at The Times said that he had not provided them with any state secrets. The sole evidence for the charge appeared to rest on a handwritten note that the Chinese authorities obtained from the Beijing office of The Times, without the knowledge or consent of the paper. In the note, Zhao described a rumor, which turned out to be false and which was not used in the story, about tussles between Jiang and current President Hu Jintao over military postings, according to international news reports.

In April 2005, authorities informed Zhao’s lawyer that he was also under investigation for fraud, accusing him of accepting money in exchange for a promise to write a newspaper article in 2001. Zhao and a witness dispute the allegation, but he was indicted on both charges in May 2005.

Charges against Zhao were lifted briefly before President Hu visited the White House in April, but were reinstated in May.

“We call for Zhao Yan’s immediate release,” Cooper added.