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China Urged to Release ‘New York Times’ Researcher


The trial of a Chinese researcher for the New York Times newspaper, accused of fraud and revealing state secrets, has ended after one day in Beijing. Authorities did not immediately announce a verdict in the controversial trial. Human rights and press freedom organizations have called the charges baseless and have called on China to immediately release researcher, Zhao Yan.

The Chinese government first detained Zhao Yan nearly two years ago on a charge of leaking state secrets to the New York Times, the U.S.-based newspaper he worked for in Beijing.

In a sign of the sensitive nature of the case, authorities refused to allow his family members to attend.

Human rights and press freedom organizations have condemned the charges as politically motivated.

Shawn Crispin is the Asia Consultant for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. He says the trial is a step backward for press freedom in China.

"The charges are completely baseless,” said Crispin, “and probably were most likely orchestrated from above as a way of trying to pressure The New York Times in general from its critical coverage of the country. And, the easiest way for the authorities to do that would be to crack down on a local researcher, rather than one of the U.S.-backed reporters."

The authorities arrested Zhao in 2004 and charged him with revealing state secrets after the Times reported - correctly - that former President Jiang Zemin was about to step down as head of the country's powerful military commission.

The authorities dropped that charge in March but refused to release Zhao. Days later, they charged him again, with revealing state secrets and fraud, but the details of the new charges have not been made public.

Nicholas Becquelin, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch, says the Chinese government uses vague state secrets laws when it wants to punish those who have challenged or embarrassed it.

"If they decide that something is a state secret there is no way you can challenge it through courts, there is no way it can be disproved through a judicial process,” said Becquelin. “So, virtually from the moment that they decide that a piece of information is a state secret, well, the fate of the person accused of leaking this information is basically sealed."

China jails more journalists than any other country. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 32 newspeople were in Chinese jails at the end of last year.

A court in the southern province of Hunan recently found journalist Yang Xiaoqing guilty of extortion after he wrote articles about official corruption, and on Thursday sentenced him to one year in prison.

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