Former reporter gets 3-year prison term
Updated: 2006-08-25 12:43

Chinese journalist Zhao Yan, a former reporter with a Beijing newspaper, has been sentenced to three years in prison for fraud, according to sources from the No. 2 Intermediate People's Court of Beijing on Friday.

Zhao Yan. [File]

But he was found not guilty of releasing state secrets as the court felt the prosecutors did not provide sufficient evidence to support this charge.

International media have reported that Zhao was suspected of providing state secrets to the New York Times.

The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court rejected the state secrets charge in a 10-page verdict released Friday morning. "On the charge against the defendant Zhao Yan that he provided state secrets abroad, the evidence is insufficient," the court ruling read. "The charge for this crime cannot stand, and this court does not accept it."

Zhao was detained in September 2004. Under Chinese law, the time he has already served will count against his prison term. Mo Shaoping, his lawyer, said the court ruling stated that his release was scheduled for September 15, 2007.

Zhao Yan joined The New York Times's Beijing bureau as a researcher in April 2004. The American newspaper has denied that Zhao leaked any state secrets to it. "If the verdict is what it appears to be, we consider it a vindication," said Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, according the newspaper's online report on Friday.

On the fraud charge, the court ordered him to pay 2,000 yuan (US$250) in fines and to pay back 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) he had gained through fraudulent means.

Zhao denied the fraud charges, said his lawyer Mo Shaoping. Another defense lawyer, Guan Anping, said he didn't know whether Zhao would appeal the conviction handed down by the court.

Xinhua News Agency was provided with a document by the court that provided only the following details of the proceedings.

The document says in 2001 Zhao traveled to Jilin to investigate a story for the Beijing newspaper "Baixing Xinbao" involving a man named Feng Shanchen, who had been given a punishment of one and a half years in a labour camp by the local authorities in Songyuan City, northeast China's Jilin Province.

According to the document, Feng believed the penalty to be unjust and turned to Zhao for help. Zhao reportedly lied that he had connections with the "Legislative Affairs Bureau of the State Council" and if Feng paid him 20,000 yuan, he would be able to rescind the punishment. But Zhao is said to have taken the money but did not keep to his promise.

The document says that the court had fully protected Zhao's procedural rights during the trial. He was defended by himself and two other defence lawyers.

"Baixing Xinbao", a subsidiary paper of "Legal Daily", started publication in January 2000 but was closed down in December 2001 for losing money.