Sun, Sep 16, 2007 - Page 5 News List

China releases journalist

HARD TIMES Zhao Yan of the `New York Times' was released after three years of detention after correctly reporting Jiang Zemin's widely expected resignation

AFP , BEIJING

New York Times researcher Zhao Yan (趙岩), jailed in China in 2004 and convicted of fraud after being cleared of divulging state secrets, was freed yesterday, his family said.

"Zhao Yan has been freed at 8am from a detention center in Beijing," his sister Zhao Kun (趙琨) said by telephone, adding he was in good health and good spirits.

The 45-year-old researcher thanked his family, friends and employer for their support in a statement issued after his release. He also thanked the media for covering his case.

"These three years I have missed my family very much, especially my maternal grandmother who is now more than 100 years old," he said in the statement. "For that reason I want some time to reunite with my family.

"After a short time, I hope to see many other friends and members of the media. I also plan to make a longer written statement expressing my views at some point in the near future," he added.

Zhao was arrested in September 2004 after the New York Times correctly reported that former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) was about to resign from his last official post as the country's top military leader.

Jiang's retirement, while widely expected, was a closely guarded secret.

Zhao was charged with leaking state secrets to the New York Times, which he and the newspaper always denied. He was found not guilty on the charges of leaking state secrets but convicted of fraud.

Zhao's case sparked diplomatic rows between China and the US, with Washington repeatedly calling on Beijing to release him. International human rights groups also demanded his release.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, said he was delighted that Zhao, an employee of the newspaper's Beijing bureau, was free after three years in prison.

"We have said all along that Mr Zhao is an honorable, hard-working reporter whose only offense seems to have been practicing journalism," he said. "It is our expectation that Mr Zhao, having served his full three-year term, will now be able to resume his life and return to his chosen profession without restrictions."

Zhao's sister said last year that the fraud charge, which accused him of receiving 20,000 yuan (US$2,660) from a farmer while working for a newspaper in Jilin Province in 2001, was an "excuse" for authorities to jail him.

The researcher's legal team have said he was convicted solely on the testimony of a Jilin official who accused him of demanding the money to help villagers.

Zhao was long seen as a thorn in the side of local authorities because he wrote a series of critical reports about official abuse of peasants while working for a Chinese magazine.

Activists have said the case against him was part of a campaign by authorities to intimidate journalists and silence people who challenged the government.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Zhao should not have been jailed.

"His case is emblematic of the Chinese government's willingness to use its highly politicized legal system to restrain both the domestic and international press," said Sophie Richardson, the group's Asia advocacy director.

Campaign group Reporters Without Borders said Zhao should have all his rights restored, including the right to work as a journalist.

At least 35 journalists and 51 cyber-dissidents were in prison in China just for exercising their right to inform, the group said.

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