Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned the continued detention of Chinese researcher on the New York Times, Zhao Yan who has been held in custody by state security since his arrest on 17 September 2004.
He was formally placed under arrest on 20 October and has been charged with “leaking state secrets”, a crime punishable with the death penalty, and also with “fraud” which allows him to be kept in detention for seven extra months.
”Unfortunately this is not the first time that the Chinese authorities have treated a journalist in this way,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “But this hounding of a contributor to the international media illustrates the impunity with which the Chinese secret services feel free to act. The very serious charges laid against Zhao Yan have created a climate of fear among Chinese journalists working for foreign media,” it added.
Zhao, who has still not been allowed to see his family, has been accused of informing the American newspaper of Jiang Zemin’s retirement from politics before his official announcement. The New York Times however has insisted that Zhao Yan did not have the facts.
The 42-year-old journalist, who is being held in a cell at the state security detention centre in Beijing, has lost ten kilos in weight and is reportedly very depressed. The prison authorities have refused him some medical treatment.
His file was sent by the prosecutor’s office to state security in July with a call for further investigation. Some local sources said that the initial investigation had been ordered by President Hu Jintao, outraged at the report that was carried in the New York Times.
On 17 September 2004, state security agents picked up Zhao Yan in a Shanghai restaurant after pinpointing his whereabouts from his mobile phone. A former reporter on China Reform magazine, Zhao produced a number of reports on the plight of peasants in China.
Thirty other journalists are currently imprisoned in the country.