China Tries N.Y. Times Researcher on State-Secrets Charge
Saturday, June 17, 2006
BEIJING, June 16 -- A Chinese researcher in the Beijing bureau of the New York Times was tried on charges of fraud and divulging state secrets Friday in day-long proceedings conducted behind closed doors in a Beijing court, his lawyers said.
The chief defense lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said a verdict would be handed down later, in keeping with Chinese legal practice. Mo said the court had prohibited him from describing arguments put forward by either the prosecution or the defense because the case allegedly concerns state secrets.
The researcher, Zhao Yan, 44, was detained in September 2004 shortly after the Times published a story accurately predicting the resignation of former president Jiang Zemin from his last post, chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission.
Zhao was eventually charged with leaking state secrets to foreigners and was later accused of an unrelated fraud. The Times said Zhao did not provide the information about Jiang's plans to resign, but he remained in prison while the State Security Bureau investigated.
The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court dismissed the charges against Zhao in March, citing lack of evidence. But the prosecutor renewed the investigation and refiled the charges last month, this time winning the court's agreement to hold a trial.
Revelation of state secrets is considered a serious crime in China, and Zhao risks a long prison term, Mo said. The decision to hold a trial means the court took the accusations seriously, he added, and acquittals in such cases are rare.
Another lawyer on the defense team, Guan Anping, pointed out that the verdict could go in any direction because the Chinese judicial system remains beholden to the Communist Party and often follows orders from officials. The Chinese party secretary and president, Hu Jintao, has taken a personal interest in the case, according to sources familiar with the proceedings, and could ultimately prove the decisive voice on Zhao's fate.
"This case will be influenced by many factors, so we cannot predict the result," Guan said.
In at least three meetings between Hu and President Bush, U.S. officials have asked for Zhao's release. When the court dropped the charges in March -- just before a visit by Hu to Washington -- his release had been widely expected. Instead, the prosecutor resumed the investigation, and Hu was handed a third request for leniency.
Zhao's sister, Zhao Kun, 54, came to the court in hopes of seeing her brother for the first time since he was detained. But she was refused permission to enter the court and did not see him coming or going. Mo said Zhao suffers from a prior kidney ailment, but Guan said he appeared calm.
Correspondent Edward Cody in Shanghai contributed to this report.