NEW YORK TIMES RESEARCHER ZHAO YAN GETS THREE YEARS ON FRAUD CHARGE
(Aug. 26, 2006)
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the three-year prison sentence which a Beijing court imposed yesterday on New York Times researcher Zhao Yan for alleged fraud while dismissing the original charge of treason and divulging state secrets.
"The court cleared Zhao of the treason charge for lack of evidence and it should have done the same with the fraud charge," the press freedom organisation said. "Zhao is known for his commitment to China's peasants and the accusations that were brought against him were all ridiculous. We support his sister's request for an appeal and we call for his provisional release as he as already spent too much time in prison."
Zhao was arrested on 17 September 2004 for allegedly revealing to the New York Times, well before it was officially announced, that former President Jiang Zemin was about to resign as chairman of the Military Central Commission, his last political post of influence.
The fraud charge - allegedly requesting 20,000 yuan (2,000 euros) from a peasant in exchange for advising him on how to avoid prison - was added on 1 June 2005 with the apparent aim of being able to keep him longer in pretrial custody.
The Beijing No. 2 People's Intermediate Court gave Zhao a summary trial behind closed doors on 16 June. Witnesses were not allowed to testify and Zhao's lawyers were not allowed to express their criticism of the procedure. The court should have issued its verdict by 25 July and violated the law by keeping Zhao in detention for more than a month without doing so.
Zhao, who was awarded the 2005 Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France press freedom prize, should be released in September 2007 as the nearly two years he has already spent in prison will be discounted from his sentence.
The court's decision to dismiss the charge of divulging state secrets was hailed by Zhao's lawyers as a "great victory for us and the Chinese judicial system." The New York Times described it as a "vindication" for its position that he did nothing wrong as a journalist. His sister however said Zhao would appeal against the fraud conviction.
Reporters Without Borders hails the unflagging support which the New York Times has given Zhao for the past two years. The organisation also salutes the many diplomats and NGOs who defended his rights.
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