China: Court upholds conviction of New York Times researcher

New York, December 1, 2006—The High Court of Beijing on Friday upheld a fraud conviction in August against Zhao Yan, the Chinese researcher for The New York Times who has been jailed since September 2004.

Zhao was tried on the fraud charge and leaking state secrets in June, in closed proceedings at which he was not allowed to call defense witnesses. Prosecutors said Zhao had demanded money from a rural official in 2001 to use his connections to help the man avoid labor camp. In August Zhao was sentenced to three years in prison on the charge.

The fraud charge had been added by investigators more than six months after his 2004 arrest in the state-secrets case. Zhao has repeatedly denied both charges. On August 25, Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court acquitted Zhao of the state secrets charge because of “insufficient evidence.” None of the legal proceedings in Zhao’s case have been open to the public.

“China’s attack on journalists and the media continues unabated. Today’s decision shows to what lengths the government is prepared to go to silence journalists and mete out punishment with no regard to the basic concepts of justice,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

Having been detained since September 2004, Zhao will most likely remain in prison until his three-year sentence ends next September. The New York Times reported that “Zhao’s legal team is contemplating further appeals and complained that the court prevented them from mounting a vigorous case.”

Quoting Zhao’s lawyer Guan Anping, The New York Times said, “Zhao Yan wasn’t given the opportunity to testify in court. He was not allowed to call witnesses or present certain evidence. They sustained the verdict without having another trial.”

Zhao was initially detained in connection with an article predicting that ex-president Jiang Zemin would retire from the top military post that he continued to hold after leaving the presidency. Jiang’s intentions, considered politically sensitive, were closely guarded. Zhao and The New York Times denied that he had divulged state secrets.