Reporters Without Borders condemned the Chinese authorities’ decision, revealed today, to try New York Times researcher Zhao Yan on charges of fraud and divulging state secrets. According to the legal deadline, the trial should take place in the next two months. In theory, Zhao faces the possibility of the death penalty although it is rarely passed on prisoners of conscience.
“We regret that the government turned a deaf ear to the many calls for the release of this respected journalist. At least, after 15 months of detention, Zhao is going to be able to defend himself in court against the baseless charges brought against him by the Chinese authorities. We hope, at the very least, that the trial will be fair and that foreign observers and the press will be able to attend,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Mo Shaoping, one of Zhao’s lawyers, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that he was notified today by the office of the Beijing prosecutor that the case will go to court. The prosecutor had previously sent the case back to the state security department twice with requests for further investigation.
State security police arrested Zhao in a Shanghai restaurant on 17 September 2004. He used to be an investigative reporter with the magazine China Reform, and was well known for his coverage of the situation of peasant farmers in China.
Zhao is accused of telling his employers, the New York Times, about former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin’s intention to resign from the last of his political posts before this was officially announced. The New York Times denies this. His lawyer says he will plead not guilty.
Aged 42, Zhao is being held in a state security department cell in Beijing. He has reportedly lost 10 kilos in weight. After being held for more than a year in an undisclosed location, several people including one of his lawyers were recently allowed to visit him.
Zhao was chosen in December to receive the prize which Reporters Without Borders and Fondation de France jointly award every year to a journalist who has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to press freedom in his work, in the views he has expressed publicly, or in a stance he has taken.