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HRIC Protests Denial of Appeal for Journalist Zhao Yan

December 1, 2006

Human Rights in China (HRIC) deplores the Beijing Higher Court's denial today of an appeal for New York Times journalist Zhao Yan. According to his lawyer Guan Anping, at the five-minute hearing, Zhao Yan was not allowed to testify, present evidence or call witnesses.

Zhao was detained in September 2004 in connection with a New York Times article that predicted the resignation of Jiang Zemin from his last major post as head of the military. He was held in detention for more than 19 months without trial on suspicion of leaking state secrets to the newspaper. In September 2005, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Zhao Yao's detention to be arbitrary because it violated fundamental freedoms and international norms on the right to a fair trial.

The state secrets charge against Zhao Yan was dropped on March 17, 2006, one month before Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States. However, on August 25, 2006, Zhao was sentenced to three years in prison on what is widely viewed as trumped-up charges of fraud. The trial failed to meet international standards of due process because it was held behind closed doors on the basis of the state secrets charge of which Zhao was cleared. Zhao lodged an appeal against his sentence on September 4.

Prior to joining The New York Times as a researcher in Beijing, Zhao Yan was a journalist who wrote extensively about rural issues and government corruption, and advocated for peasants' rights. Zhao's release is scheduled for September 2007, with the two years he has already served in detention credited against his term.

Zhao Yan’s detention violates his right to freedom of expression and has already been determined to be arbitrary and in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by an international expert body. "The five-minute consideration of Zhao’s appeal reflects the politicized nature of a non-independent and non-transparent process," said HRIC executive director Sharon Hom. "Once again, state secrets charges were invoked as a means of undermining a defendant's rights to procedural protections, including access to his lawyer and to the evidence against him."