Press-freedom and human rights advocates are praising China's decision this week to free a journalist who had been in prison for five years after writing about corruption in the communist country.

The Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights advocacy group in the United States, says the authorities released Jiang Weiping from a prison in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on Tuesday - a year ahead of schedule.

His imprisonment drew criticism from rights advocacy groups around the world and prompted repeated calls for his release from the U.S. government.

U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt issued a statement welcoming Mr. Jiang's early release as a "positive beginning to the New Year."

Among the groups pressing for his release was PEN, a worldwide writers' association. Bjorn Linnell, the group's chairman in Sweden, praised foreign governments for intervening. He says he hopes China's decision signals greater transparency, especially at a time of growing unrest.

"Hopefully the release of Jiang means that the government is [more] willing to accept the coverage of their internal problems," he said.

Authorities detained Jiang Weiping in December of 2000, and convicted him, in a secret trial, of leaking state secrets and inciting subversion after reporting on corruption involving high-level government officials. He was to have served a six-year sentence that would have expired in January of 2007.

Mr. Jiang's release takes place a week after China came under criticism from international press advocacy groups for firing three top editors at a Beijing newspaper that had reported on land grabs by officials and other topics regarded by the government as sensitive. The editors' firing prompted a walkout by several reporters at the newspaper.