The Zhao Yan Two-step

Why the cat-and-mouse game-playing over Zhao Yan, the NY Times researcher imprisoned in Beijing for allegedly letting the newspaper know Jiang Zemin was going to resign? It sounded last week like his release was imminent.

The United States on Thursday continued to press China about the status of a jailed researcher for The New York Times, but the uncertainty about his fate deepened as a Chinese government spokesman appeared to cast doubt on whether he would soon be released.

The case against Zhao Yan, 44, a Chinese researcher in the Beijing bureau of The Times, was withdrawn last Friday by a court order. His lawyer said the withdrawal of the charges against him — one count of fraud, another of disclosing state secrets to The Times — meant that Mr. Zhao would soon be released, possibly on an equivalent of bail.

But the Chinese authorities have since remained silent about the status of Mr. Zhao, and he is still behind bars. Asked on Thursday afternoon about the case, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, criticized foreign news organizations for making “irresponsible statements,” and he then offered a cryptic response.

“You ask if Zhao Yan will soon be released,” Mr. Qin said during a regular news briefing for foreign reporters. “From what I have learned, the actual situation is not like what you are talking about.”

His arrest in and of itself was despicable enough (the charges are totally groundless), but to hold him now, after his case was withdrawn – it’s inexcusably cruel. What are they thinking? The Times editorial writers are asking the same question.

Mr. Zhao is not the only journalist unjustly jailed in China, and it is fair to say that our concern is heightened by his association with The Times. But his arrest shows how China can too easily use the courts to silence any journalist who crosses some unseen line of behavior and offends some unnamed person in power. It is an example of the government’s need for a scapegoat when coverage about high officials or the Communist Party does not turn out as the leadership would have scripted it….

By now, it should be clear to the Chinese authorities that American leaders and the international news media are not going to forget this case. Mr. Zhao’s plight should remain on the agenda for President Hu Jintao’s first official visit to Washington next month. A better outcome would be for China to follow up on the withdrawal of the charges against Mr. Zhao and releasing him immediately.

I wonder what it feels like to be Zhao Yan as he’s kicked around like a political football. China should have released him a long time ago – hell, he should never have been arrested at all. Hao Wu, Zhao Yan, Shi Tao — my heart goes out to anyone unlucky enough to fall within the crosshairs of the CCP Stability and Harmony Brigade.

The Discussion: One Comment

The leader’s resignment should always be a national secret until the official press of the government publish the news to the public. Jiang’s having been suffered from throat cancer would remain a national secret until now had Zhao not reported in the same post. The withdrawal of the charge of leaking is only for the sake of the visit to US, which is hardly necessary.

August 27, 2006 @ 12:58 am | Comment

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