Reporters Without Borders condemned today’s decision by the Beijing high court to uphold a three-year prison sentence for New York Times researcher Zhao Yan on a charge of fraud. Arrested in September 2004, Zhao will complete his sentence in September 2007.
“We deplore the inability of the Chinese courts to do anything other than hand down prison sentences set by the government,” the press freedom organisation said. “Once the Communist Party’s Political and Legal Commission has taken a decision, all the judges do is apply it, regardless of the right of defence and presumption of innocence.”
Zhao’s lawyer, Guan Anping, who was not allowed to attend the appeal hearing, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that the judges turned down the appeal against the sentence imposed on 25 August. The appeal hearing was unfair and contrary to Chinese law, and lasted only 10 minutes, he said. Zhao’s sister, Zhao Kun, called it a serious miscarriage of justice and urged the international community to speak out.
Only three of Zhao’s relatives were allowed to be present when the court issued its decision. The presiding judge began by getting Zhao’s date and place of birth wrong. Then he asked Zhao if he had anything to say. Zhao responded: “Your information on my date and place of birth are not even correct. Is this how your employees prepare for hearings?”
Zhao added: “There are no witnesses and not even the plaintiff is here. What kind of judge are you? Is this how you use the authority the country has given you?” Before he could finish speaking, the judge ordered him removed from the court. “Take the criminal away,” he said.
Zhao’s sentence was confirmed on the same day that a prison sentence of four years and three months was upheld for Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal adviser and human rights activist who reported to the press that women were being forced to undergo abortions in Shandong province. The case has been completely censored in the Chinese press and on Chinese websites.
Call for Zhao Yan to be acquitted and freed on appeal
Reporters Without Borders today called on the Chinese judicial authorities to acquit and release New York Times researcher Zhao Yan tomorrow, when the Beijing high court is expected to rule on his appeal without holding any hearing.
“This would be a gesture to the international community, which was dismayed to see Straits Times correspondent Ching Cheong’s five-year prison sentence upheld on appeal,” the press freedom organisation said. “There is now an urgent need for the political and judicial authorities to face up to their responsibilities and free Zhao.”
The winner of the Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France press freedom prize in 2005, Zhao has been held since 17 September 2004. He was given a three-year prison sentence on a charge of fraud in August.
Zhao’s lawyer, Guan Anping, told Reporters Without Borders yesterday that the Beijing high court was due to issue its ruling on the appeal at 9 a.m. tomorrow. He insisted on his client’s innocence. Zhao was convicted solely on the testimony of an official in Jilin province who accused him of demanding the equivalent of 2,500 US dollars to help local villagers in 2001, when he was working as a reporter for a Jilin provincial daily. The defence was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses at the trial.
Zhao has always maintained his innocence and has asked to be given a lie detector test.