Reporters Without Borders hails today’s release of New York Times researcher Zhao Yan on completing a three-year prison sentence. His sister confirmed to the press freedom organisation that Zhao was freed at 8.a.m. today from a Beijing prison. “He has lost weight but he is in good physical and mental shape,” she said.
Zhao issued a statement saying: “I thank all those who supported me. I want to spend time with my family, especially my maternal grandmother, who is now more than 100 years old. For this reason, I want to have my family around me. After that, I hope to see my friends and journalists. I also envisage issuing a longer statement soon expressing my views.”
New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said in a statement: “We have said all along that Zhao Yan is an honourable, hard-working reporter whose only offence seems to have been practising journalism. It is our expectation that Zhao Yan, having served his full three-year term, will now be able to resume his life and return to his chosen profession without restrictions.”
New York Times researcher Zhao Yan to be freed this weekend on completing three-year sentence
Reporters Without Borders today called on the Chinese authorities to keep their promise to release journalist Zhao Yan on 15 September, when he completes a three-year prison sentence for alleged fraud. Despite the many appeals for his release in the past, his sentence was never reduced and he was never granted early release.
“After serving his three-year sentence in full, first in a state security centre and then a prison, Zhao should have all his rights restored, including the right to work as a journalist,” the press freedom organisation said. “The government showed no clemency towards Zhao, who was a scapegoat in an affair of state in which he was not involved.” At least 35 journalists and 51 cyberdissidents are in prison in China just for exercising their right to inform.
Zhao’s family has confirmed that he is due to be released on 15 September in Beijing. A researcher for the New York Times, he was arrested by State Security Department officials in a Shanghai restaurant on 17 September 2004.
He was formally placed under arrest on 20 October 2004 on a charge of divulging state secrets, because he allegedly told the New York Times, well before it was officially announced, that former President Jiang Zemin was about to stand down from his last political post of influence. The New York Times has consistently made clear that it did not get this information from Zhao.
In the end, he was cleared of transmitting state secrets and was convicted of fraud on the basis of the testimony of a Jilin province official and his relatives. The defence was never granted the right to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses, and the authorities refused Zhao’s request that he and the witnesses should undergo lie-detector tests.
Awarded the 2005 Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France prize for “his commitment to freedom of information,” Zhao was held incommunicado for more than a year in a state security detention centre in Beijing, where he lost 10 kilos and was refused some of the medical treatment he needed.
Zhao used to be a reporter for the magazine Reform in China, for which he covered the situation of China’s peasants.