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China 8 June 2006

Delays, abuses and irregularities plague Zhao Yan case

Reporters Without Borders has blasted abuses and irregularities on the part of prosecutors and judges in the preparation of the case against New York Times employee Zhao Yan.

On 6 June 2006, a judge of the No 2 intermediate people’s court in Beijing told his lawyer Mo Shaoping that it had decided to adjourn the journalist’s case yet again. It should have opened today.

"Now, we have seen everything in this case: secret detention, lies and silence on the part of the authorities, failure to respect legal timescales and irregularities," said the press freedom organisation.

The dropping of all charges and the release of Zhao Yan, laureate of the 2005 Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize, remains the only fair and reasonable outcome of this case," it said.

"We particularly condemn the attitude of the prosecutors, who despite the absence of any concrete proof, continue to accuse the journalist of fraud and divulging state secrets. We are also concerned that in the past journalists and dissidents have received heavy sentences from the No 2 Intermediate people’s court in Beijing for offences of opinion.

Some procedures undertaken by this court have been ruled as contrary to international standards by UN experts," it added.

Zhao Yan’s trial was due to open on 8 June 2006. But on 6 June, a judge announced a delay of about one month to the lawyer who had again requested for the defence witnesses to be heard. The court justified its decision by Mo’s request. He told Reuters that the judge had tried to put pressure on him to ask for the adjournment.

The adjournment could be linked to the absence of concrete proof in the files on the case sent to the court by State Security or by the judge’s failure to decide whether or not witnesses in the case should be heard.

Reporters Without Borders repeats its appeal for all witnesses, including correspondents for the New York Times, to give evidence.

The holding of the trial follows the prosecutors’ decision, announced on 17 April, to reopen charges and to send the file to the No 2 intermediate people’s court in Beijing. One month earlier, on 17 March, the lawyer had announced that the charges laid against his client had been lifted, on the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States. Zhao Yan, aged 44, was not however released.

The political decision to reopen the case on the basis of the same accusations is not legal since the prosecutors had not produced any new documentary evidence or proof to back up the accusations of "divulging state secrets". This was discovered by Mo Shaoping when he was given access to part of his client’s "new files" at the end of May. Moreover the prosecutors and State Security both failed to observe the legal timescale.

Reporters Without Borders pointed out that in May 2004, the cyberdissident Yang Jianli was sentenced to five years in prison by the No 2 intermediate people’s court in Beijing for "espionage" and "illegally entering Chinese territory". A group of experts from the UN termed his arrest and trial as "arbitrary and unfair".

Zhao has been in prison since 17 September 2004, falsely accused of having revealed the political retirement of Jiang Zemin to the New York Times before the official announcement. The journalist was formally arrested on 20 October 2004 and then charged with "divulging state secrets", a crime punishable by the death penalty, and with "fraud".

Zhao is held in an isolation cell at the State Security detention centre in Beijing. The prison authorities refuse to allow him some of his medical treatment. His family, which has still not been allowed to visit him, has said they have been depressed by the constant twists and turns in the case. Mo Shaoping has however been allowed to visit him in May 2006.

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