The State Department says the United States has raised its concern with the Chinese government over the arrest of a Chinese research assistant for the New York Times bureau in Beijing. The Times employee, Zhao Yan, is reported under investigation for revealing state secrets.
The State Department says the United States is concerned about both the fate of Mr. Zhao and the implications that his arrest may have for other journalists working in China.
Mr. Zhao, a veteran independent Chinese reporter hired by the New York Times last May, was detained September 17 while visiting Shanghai on a personal visit.
His family received official notice a few days later that he was under criminal detention on suspicion of illegally providing state secrets to foreigners.
The arrest has drawn international criticism from among others, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which expressed alarm over the detention.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the U.S. government is also concerned and has raised the issue with Chinese officials.
"We have raised it both in China through our embassy to the Foreign Ministry and here in Washington to the Chinese embassy," he said. "We are seeking clarification of his status and expressing our concern for his welfare, and underscoring our view that the role of a free press is critical in providing information to build a strong civil society."
The New York Times itself has also complained to Chinese authorities. A spokeswoman said the newspaper can say categorically that Mr. Zhao has not provided it with any state secrets.
Journalists in Beijing have said Mr. Zhao's arrest may be linked to a September 7 New York Times article that quoted unidentified Chinese sources as saying that former Communist Party Chairman Jiang Zemin was planning to resign from his last position of power, as head of the country's Central Military Commission.
The story proved to be accurate on September 19 when Mr. Jiang's resignation was officially announced.
Deliberations among Chinese party leaders are highly secretive and news leaks are treated as a serious offense. The country's criminal laws on passing state secrets, while vaguely worded, are also severe and convictions usually bring long prison terms.
The Committee to Protect Journalists sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao late last week saying it was gravely concerned about Mr. Zhao's detention, which it said has a "chilling effect" on all journalists in China.
The journalists organization said Mr. Zhao had been repeatedly harassed by authorities in his previous job as a reporter for "China Reform" magazine, where it said he reported aggressively on government abuse of peasants across China.
In its most recent report on human rights worldwide, issued in February, the State Department said China, whose overall human rights record "remained poor," maintained tight restrictions on the press and that 87 journalists and internet writers were reported imprisoned at the end of last year.