Reporters Without Borders protests against the Chinese authorities’ decision to charge Zhao Yan, contributor to US daily the New York Times, with fraud. Reuters news agency, quoted the journalist’s lawyer Mo Shaoping as saying that the police can, by putting these new charges, now hold Zhao in custody for seven extra months to allow them to pursue their investigation.
Zhao, imprisoned since 17 September 2004, was formally arrested on 20 October and accused of "divulging state secrets", a charge that carries the death penalty. Neither his family nor his lawyer has been allowed to visit him.
Zhao Yan is formally charged
Zhao Yan, a Chinese researcher for The New York Times who has been held since 17 September, was formally arrested on 20 October on a charge of "divulging state secrets," which is punishable by the death penalty.
Zhao, who has not been allowed to see his lawyer or family, is alleged to have revealed to the newspaper, before it was officially announced, that former president Jiang Zemin was resigning as head of the central military commission. The New York Times has denied the allegations, and insists Zhao just worked as a researcher and not as a journalist.
The charge has been brought less that a week before US secretary of state Colin Powell is due to visit Beijing. Powell already raised Zhao’s case last month with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing.
China cracks down on free expression in the midst of human rights dialogue with the EU
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) urged European Union member states and the European Commission to condemn China’s latest crackdown on independent websites and publications at the same time as holding dialogue on human rights with the EU.
While no announcement has been made on the outcome of the 24 September meeting in Beijing, the international press freedom organisation urged them to react to a wave of closures of publications and arrests of journalists.
Beijing appeared to be openly contemptuous of this so-called constructive dialogue, continuing to shut down outlets for free expression and arresting hundreds of Chinese people even while European representatives were in the Chinese capital, it said.
The authorities on 23 September blocked access to the Chinese version of the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia that relies on contributions from Internet-users and carries a number of articles about human rights abuses in China. The site has been blocked on several previous occasions.
One of the country’s most popular discussion forums Yi Ta Hu Tu was closed on 13 September. It was set up by a Beijing university student in September 1999 and had nearly 300,000 regular users. The forum was the focus for discussion on sensitive issues such as corruption, human rights or the independence of Taiwan. It operated on a democratic system whereby users voted on subjects for discussion without interference by moderators, making it difficult for the authorities to control.
Reporters Without Borders called on the Chinese authorities to reopen the Yi Ta Hu Tu discussion forum, the Wikipedia site and the thousands of other sites forbidden to Chinese Internet-users.
The government also closed the diplomatic bimonthly Zhanlue Yu Guanli (Strategy and Management) in September after it carried an article by economist Wang Zhongwen in its August issue that was critical of the North Korean regime
Copies of the magazine carrying the offending article were confiscated and subscribers were told to return their copies. The magazine lost its official sponsorship recently despite the fact that its editorial board included ranking political officials Since June 2004, the Publicity Department (formerly Propaganda Department) has been trying to shut down Zhanlue Yu Guanli but its management had succeeded in bringing it out in July and August.
A China specialist told Reporters Without Borders that that Zhanlue Yu Guanli, founded in 1993, was one of only around a dozen Chinese publications to feature debate within the communist party’s reformist intellectual circles. The magazine’s website www.zlygl.com is still accessible but the North Korea article does no appear on it.
Reporters Without Borders called on the government to allow Zhanlue Yu Guanli to resume publishing.
On 17 September, secret service agents arrested journalist Zhao Yan - recently hired by the New York Times Beijing bureau - while in a Shanghai restaurant after tracking him down through his mobile phone. Four days later his family received notice from the police that he had been accused of "supplying state secrets to foreigners".
His lawyer, who has been refused the right to visit him, said Zhao is being held in Beijing and could be accused of "treason", a charge that carries the death penalty.
The authorities appear to suspect him of giving the US daily information about the resignation of former president Jiang Zemin from his post as Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The New York Times carried an article about it on 7 September, 12 days before the official announcement.
The paper denied that Zhao was the source for the article. Foreign desk head Susan Chira said he had been employed as a researcher and not as a journalist. She told Reporters Without Borders that the newspaper’s management hoped the journalist would be allowed to see his lawyer. Previously a reporter on the magazine China Reform, Zhao is known for his reports on China’s peasantry.
Reporters Without Borders called for his immediate release and recalled that another journalist, Wu Shishen, has been imprisoned since 1992 for "illegally divulging state secrets to foreigners". He was sentenced to life imprisonment on the direct order of Jiang Zemin. He had sent a journalist in Hong Kong a copy of a speech that the head of state was due to make to the communist party congress.
Finally, the Chinese press has not reported the demonstrations and arrests of hundreds of people in Beijing trying to make themselves heard by members of the central committee attending the communist party plenum during September. Foreign journalists were also prevented from covering these events.
Hundreds or even thousands of Chinese people, unable to make their complaints heard through the media, descended on the capital from every part of the country to try to press their cases. One petitioner from the province of Xinjiang in the West of the country was killed in mysterious circumstances in Beijing on 24 September. He had come to the capital to complain about official ill-treatment of the Uighurs, the ethnic Muslim group that suffers communist party repression.