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China Releases Jailed New York Times Researcher


A researcher for The New York Times in China, jailed three years ago for allegedly leaking state secrets, has been released. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Beijing.

Family and friends greeted Zhao Yan Saturday morning as he left a Beijing detention center.

In a written statement, he thanked his family, friends, The New York Times, and others who worked for his case.

Zhao's release comes exactly three years after Chinese state security officials arrested him in a Shanghai restaurant in 2004. He was initially charged with revealing state secrets to the U.S newspaper.

The Times published a report in September 2004 saying that Jiang Zemin was stepping down as the head of China's Central Military Commission, a year after Mr. Jiang had left office as president of the People's Republic.

The story was published before an official announcement was made, angering the Chinese authorities, who consider such information state secrets. The Times denied that the information used in the report came from him.

A Beijing court later dropped the charges, which carried a 10-year sentence, citing insufficient evidence.

However, Zhao, who has reported about China's rural problems before joining the Times bureau in Beijing, was then convicted of an unrelated charge of fraud. The court sentenced him to three years in prison for allegedly taking money in 2001 in exchange for a promise to intervene on behalf of a person with legal problems.

Media and human right activists viewed the fraud charge as a face-saving tactic by the Chinese authorities after they were unable to support the more serious state secrets charge.

Vincent Brossel heads the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders in Paris, an international press freedom watchdog.

"He has been a scapegoat in this affair of state in which he was not been involved at all. I think he spent three years for nothing, because he had nothing to do with what the New York Times has revealed. So it's just a way for the state security police to target and punish one journalist working for a U.S. leading daily," Brossel said.

The U.S. government had appealed on Zhao's behalf, with President George Bush raising the case with China's President Hu Jintao.

In a statement Saturday, the Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed the hope that Zhao would now be able to "resume his life and return to his chosen profession without restrictions."

Reporters Without Borders says at least 35 journalists are still in prison in China for doing their jobs. Another organization, The Committee to Protect Journalists, says China was the world's leading jailer of journalists in 2006.