Detained New York Times researcher Zhao Yan is now being held illegally as six days have gone by since the Beijing intermediate people’s court No. 2 announced on 17 March that he was to be released because the charges against him had been dropped, Reporters Without Borders said today.
Under Chinese law, a detainee has five days to appeal such a decision and demand a trial with the aim of being cleared. But Zhao did not file any such appeal because he felt that withdrawal of the charges was the same as being found innocent, his lawyer Mo Shaoping said. His continued detention has therefore been illegal since midnight.
“We firmly condemn the behaviour of the Chinese authorities in keeping an innocent man in prison in breach of their own laws, and we call for his immediate release,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Zhao’s elder sister, Zhao Kun, has been trying every day to find out from the prosecutor’s office when he would be freed but she has repeatedly been told that the prosecutor is absent. A family friend said the silence could be due to an attempt by the authorities to obtain an undertaking from Zhao not to sue them.
The US government has called for his release.
Zhao Yan of the New York Times innocent!
Reporters Without Borders welcomed news that charges have been dropped against journalist and contributor to US daily New York Times, Zhao Yan, laureate of the press freedom organisation’s 2005 prize, and that he will be freed within days.
Zhao, 42, who had been held in custody by state security for 18 months, was facing charges of “divulging state secrets”, an offence punishable by the death penalty, and of “fraud”.
He had been accused of giving the news of the political retirement of Jiang Zemin to his newspaper before it was made known officially. The New York Times has always maintained that the news had not come from Zhao.
“We are absolutely delighted at the announcement of the imminent release of Zhao Yan,” the organisation said. “They have finally accepted the innocence of a brave man who became the scapegoat of a government which scorns investigative journalism”.
“We thank all those in China and abroad who campaigned for Zhao Yan. The determination of his employer, The New York Times, and his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, were crucial in winning this release,” said Reporters Without Borders, which awarded its 2005 prize to Zhao for his ‘commitment to freedom of information’.
Mo Shaoping confirmed to the organisation on 17 March that Beijing prosecutors and judges had told him that the charges against his client had been dropped and that the journalist should be freed within days. The lawyer said he believed the release linked to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s forthcoming visit to the United States in April.
His sister, Zhao Kun, told the organisation, “My brother’s lawyer has confirmed the good news to us (...) There are a few hold-ups in the formalities, but he should be released next week. It is a huge relief for the whole family. We have been unable to see him for 18 months!”
Zhao was formally arrested on 20 October 2004 and charged with “divulging state secrets” and then with “fraud”, allowing the authorities to keep him in custody for a further seven months.
He was held in an isolation cell at Beijing’s state security prison and lost ten kilos during his imprisonment. The prison authorities reportedly denied him the medical treatment he needed.
Thirty other journalists are currently imprisoned in China.