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China Criticizes Press Award Given to Imprisoned Journalist

China has criticized an international media advocacy group for giving a press freedom award to Zhao Yan, a Chinese journalist who has been imprisoned for more than a year on charges of leaking state secrets.

The group Reporters Without Borders gave Zhao Yan its award for what it calls his strong commitment to press freedom.

On Thursday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, says the award given to Mr. Zhao, a Beijing researcher for the New York Times, is inappropriate as he is under investigation for fraud and disclosing state secrets.

Mr. Qin says he wants to know what is the purpose of the award. He asks "Are they trying to encourage more journalists to steal other state secrets and to commit fraud?"

He also says the award is an interference in the investigation process.

The journalist was arrested in Shanghai in 2004, and has not yet had a court hearing. Mr. Zhao faces a long prison sentence or possible execution for allegedly passing notes to a New York Times colleague about rumors of then-president Jiang Zemin's plan to give up a key military post. Both Mr. Zhao and Times denied the accusation.

Before working for the New York Times, Mr. Zhao reported on farming issues for a magazine called China Reform. Some of his articles exposed abuse of power by officials in the countryside.

International human rights groups have repeatedly criticized China for a lack of media freedom. The country often jails journalists and academics for reporting on information that many governments routinely publicize, such as economic and health data.

Zhao Yan has been included in a list of China human rights cases that is considered of particular concern to the United States.