Sat, Aug 26, 2006 - Page 1 News List

`New York Times' researcher given three years in jail

AP , BEIJING

A Chinese researcher for the New York Times was acquitted yesterday on charges of revealing state secrets but convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison.

Zhao Yan (趙岩), 44, was detained in 2004. The government has not released details of the charges, but the case is believed to stem from a Times report on then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) plans to relinquish his post as head of the military.

The case came amid efforts by President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) government to tighten controls on Chinese media. Dozens of reporters have been jailed, often on charges of violating China's vague secrecy and security laws.

Zhao was acquitted of the secrets charge because the court concluded that "prosecutors did not provide sufficient evidence" to support it, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

vindication

The executive editor of the Times, Bill Keller, said in a statement: "If the verdict is what it appears to be, we welcome it as a vindication. We have always said that to the best of our knowledge, the only thing Zhao Yan committed is journalism."

Zhao's verdict came a day after a Chinese court sentenced Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), a blind legal activist who recorded villagers' complaints of forced abortions, to four years and three months in prison. Chen was convicted of damaging property and "organizing a mob to disturb traffic" -- charges his supporters say are phony.

Zhao was detained after the Times reported in 2004 that Jiang was preparing to step down from his last major post as chairman of the body that runs China's military. The ruling Communist Party treats such information as important secrets.

Xinhua yesterday released the first details of the fraud charge, which was based on an incident that prosecutors say occurred in 2001, before Zhao went to work for the Times' Beijing bureau.

The court convicted him of taking 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) from a man on a false promise that he had official connections and would have the man's 18-month sentence in a labor camp rescinded, Xinhua said. It said Zhao was fined 2,000 yuan (US$250) and ordered to repay the 20,000 yuan.

denial

Zhao denies the fraud charges, said his chief lawyer, Mo Shaoping (莫少平). Another defense lawyer, Guan Anping (關安平), said he didn't know whether Zhao would appeal the conviction handed down by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court.

The two years that Zhao has spent in detention will count toward his sentence, Guan said. Mo said Zhao's family has not been allowed to meet with him since he was detained.

Zhao's case was dismissed in March in an apparent effort to minimize strains with Washington before President Hu Jintao visited the US. The charges were later refiled and Zhao stood trial in June.

Zhao could have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted of "disclosing state secrets to foreigners."

Jerome Cohen, an US expert on Chinese law who advised the Times, said the case was a rare example of a Chinese court acquitting a defendant on such politically sensitive charges.

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