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New York Times Researcher Zhao Yan Freed in China

Posted by Author on September 15, 2007

AFP, Via Google News, Sep 14, 2007-

BEIJING (AFP) — The New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, jailed in China in 2004 and convicted of fraud after being cleared of divulging state secrets, was freed on Saturday, his family told AFP.

“Zhao Yan has been freed at 8:00 am (0000 GMT) from a detention centre in Beijing,” his sister Zhao Kun said by telephone, adding he was in good health and good spirits.

The 45-year-old researcher thanked his family, friends and employer for their support in a statement issued after his release. He also thanked the media for covering his case.

“These three years I have missed my family very much, especially my maternal grandmother who is now more than 100 years old,” he said in the statement. “For that reason I want some time to reunite with my family.

“After a short time, I hope to see many other friends and members of the media. I also plan to make a longer written statement expressing my views at some point in the near future,” he added.

Zhao was arrested in September 2004 after the New York Times correctly reported that former president Jiang Zemin was about to resign from his last official post as the country’s top military leader.

Jiang’s retirement, while widely expected, was a closely guarded secret.

Zhao was charged with leaking state secrets to the New York Times, which he and the newspaper always denied. He was found not guilty on the charges of leaking state secrets but convicted of fraud.

Zhao’s case sparked diplomatic rows between China and the United States, with Washington repeatedly calling on Beijing to release him. International human rights groups also demanded his release.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, said he was delighted Zhao, an employee of the newspaper’s Beijing bureau, was free after three years in prison.

“We have said all along that Mr Zhao is an honourable, hard-working reporter whose only offence seems to have been practicing journalism,” he said.

“It is our expectation that Mr Zhao, having served his full three-year term, will now be able to resume his life and return to his chosen profession without restrictions.”

Zhao’s sister said last year the fraud charge, which accused him of receiving 20,000 yuan (2,660 dollars) from a farmer while working for a newspaper in northeast China’s Jilin province in 2001, was an “excuse” for authorities to jail him.

The researcher’s legal team have said he was convicted solely on the testimony of a Jilin official who accused him of demanding the money to help villagers.

Zhao was long seen as a thorn in the side of local authorities because he wrote a series of critical reports about official abuse of peasants while working for a Chinese magazine.

Activists have said the case against him was part of a campaign by authorities to intimidate journalists and silence people who challenged the government.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Zhao should not have been jailed in the first place.

“His case is emblematic of the Chinese government?s willingness to use its highly politicised legal system to restrain both the domestic and international press,” said Sophie Richardson, the group’s Asia advocacy director.

“The Chinese government currently jails more journalists than any other country in the world,” Richardson said, adding that all reporters and writers held for trying to speak openly or access information should be freed.

Campaign group Reporters Without Borders said Zhao should have all his rights restored, including the right to work as a journalist.

“The government showed no clemency towards Zhao, who was a scapegoat in an affair of state in which he was not involved,” it said in a statement.

At least 35 journalists and 51 cyber-dissidents were in prison in China just for exercising their right to inform, it added.

Original report from AFP

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