The sad case of Zhao Yan

The NY Times savages China in an editorial that throws retraint to the wind.

For 19 months now, China has held Mr. Zhao, a researcher for The New York Times, in prison. For most of that time, Chinese authorities didn’t even bother to come up with charges; they simply held him in purgatory after yanking him from a restaurant in September 2004. Finally, last December, on the last working day on which prosecutors could decide whether to proceed, Mr. Zhao was formally charged with revealing state secrets to The Times.

The accusation of providing state secrets to foreigners is the vague catchall that party leaders invoke after reports surface of some business they want to keep quiet. In this case, a Times article forecast the retirement of China’s leader, Jiang Zemin, from his last official post. Authorities also tacked on a bizarre fraud charge from 2001, unconnected to Mr. Zhao’s work at The Times. Investigators claim he took money for offering to write a story for a Chinese newspaper, an allegation denied by Mr. Zhao’s lawyer and disputed by a witness.

The twists and turns continued. One month ago, Chinese authorities, who have repeatedly refused to clarify the status of the case or even take phone calls from the defense team, unexpectedly dropped the state secrets case against Mr. Zhao, prompting speculation that Mr. Zhao might be released.

But no. Jim Yardley of The Times reports that the Chinese authorities have started another investigation period, which could lead to reinstating the charges against him by early May.

There isn’t even a pretense here of justice and due process. Mr. Zhao, 44, is a seasoned journalist who was well known for covering rural issues before he joined the Times bureau in April 2004. He has denied that he gave the story of Mr. Jiang’s departure to his colleagues, and Times editors have repeatedly assured the Chinese authorities that Mr. Zhao was not a source for the article.

Mr. Zhao’s continued imprisonment demonstrates just how far China still has to travel before it can pretend to call itself a just society.

Zhao Yan, like Hao Wu, is just one of countless others caught up in the Kafkaesque web we call the Chinese legal system, a misnomer in every way. It’s easy to forget about them, to dismiss them as sad but inevitable collateral damage from China’s rapid growth. But it’s important we remember these are people, and the detention of just one of them setsin motion a series of concentric circles, a daisy chain of grief, pain and despair for all those whose lives the unforturnate victims touched.

Hao Wu’s sister, blogging about her helplessness in the face of her brother’s disappearance into the black hole of Chinese justice, reminds us of how human a problem this is, how there are real people, real lives at stake.

Mom also called brother’s apartment this morning. Fortunately, brother’s friend picked up and consoled her by promising to leave Haozi a note to get him to call home as soon as possible. Brother’s birthday is April 18th – looks like it’s getting almost impossible now to hide the truth. I sent another text message to the number of that still shut-off cellphone, asking them to at least let brother call home and concoct some excuse to reassure his parents, seeing as how the old couple aren’t in the best of health. I don’t know if they aren’t paying any attention still. I can only let hubby plan for the worst.

I gaze out the window at the willow catkins flying around, my feelings in an equal riot. Who has made our lives into such a bundle of mess? Have I let all the relatives and friends surrounding me feel pressured? The situation being what it is, I can only blame myself for being useless.

I am still pondering: if I were imprisoned inside, what would my brother be like outside? I trust that he too, would be doing all he possibly could. After all, through our veins flows the same blood – inseparable is the love of kin.

Right now, I feel so helpless. I truly don’t know what I can still do?

How do we tell her that thanks to China’s insidious, faceless bureaucracy, there is next to nothing she can do?

The Discussion: 5 Comments

First, I want to give Hao my birthday wishes. I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I hope if I have this in mind, somehow, someway, it will reach him.

And I do think that Nina has done something. She is at least speaking out, in China. She is speaking truth to power. That is a very brave and very significant thing to do.

April 18, 2006 @ 2:06 am | Comment

It is very brave and significant, and I applaud it. but as with the cases of Zhao Yan and Shi Tao and so many others, it is such an uphill battle. More than two months, and she still can’t get the most basic information. So on an emotional level I think it’s great she’s blogging and that so many of us have joined in the chorus. but my cool rational counterpart tells me none of this is doing much good. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop, just that I feel demoralized and grim.

April 18, 2006 @ 2:59 am | Comment

Yeah. I hear you.

I guess my hope is that, if “ordinary” (not that there is anything “ordinary” about Nina Wu, given what she’s doing) Chinese people are driven to take such actions, I have to hope that the sum of all their efforts will be positive change.

It still is horrible. And so terribly unnecessary. That’s the part I really don’t get. What in the world do these detentions accomplish?

April 18, 2006 @ 11:21 am | Comment

I’d like give my most sincere birthday wish to Mr.Hao too.
He is not alone, for we’re always with him too.

April 18, 2006 @ 7:45 pm | Comment

Belated birthday wishes to Hao. And best wishes to the family and friends that have to deal with this nonsense.

And the case of Ching Cheong demonstrates that the CCP will ignore the laws they created themselves governing detention without trial as it fits their personal whims.

On a side note, way back when certain parties at the NYTimes were triumphing the case of the Judith Chalabi Miller as the face for “press freedom”, their columns were missing Zhao’s name. One was in jail for passing on truthful information that was ridiculously deemed a state secret and the other was passing on disinformation as a government toady and hindering prosecution of those that harmed national security.

April 18, 2006 @ 10:25 pm | Comment

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