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HRIC Calls for Zhao Yan's Immediate Release

June 15, 2006

the trial of journalist and New York Times researcher Zhao Yan scheduled
to begin on June 16, Human Rights in China (HRIC) calls for his immediate
release. Zhao has been held in arbitrary detention without trial since September
17, 2004, in blatant violation of Chinese and international law.

submitted Zhao Yan's case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNAD)
on November 17, 2004. On September 2, 2005, the UNAD found that Zhao Yan's
detention was arbitrary on two grounds: 1) it resulted from the exercise of a
fundamental right or freedom guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights; and 2) it entailed total or partial non-observance of international
norms relating to the right to a fair trial.

Zhao Yan was detained on
September 17, 2004 in connection with a New York Times article predicting
the imminent resignation of Jiang Zemin from his last major post as head of
China's Military Commission. He has been scheduled for trial on June 16 on
charges of illegally disclosing state secrets and fraud. A veteran reporter
prior to joining The New York Times, Zhao wrote extensively about rural
issues and government corruption, and advocated for peasants' rights. U.S. media
have reported that the case against Zhao relies almost entirely on a cursory
memo he wrote in July 2004 speculating on a possible dispute between Jiang and
Hu Jintao over the promotion of certain army generals. Because this information
has been certified as a "top secret" state secret, Zhao Yan faces a minimum of
10 years in prison.

China's state secrets legal framework is an important
element in a larger system of information control that allows law enforcement
authorities to exercise extraordinary discretion. In determining what
constitutes a state secrets crime, secrecy protection can be applied to
virtually all information controlled by the government, and many individuals
have been criminally prosecuted for disseminating information that was already
publicly available or known. By targeting individuals who openly challenge
government policy and practices in the course of their professional duties or
civic activism, Chinese authorities create a chilling effect that undermines
independent voices.

Further, irregularities in the Chinese Criminal
Procedure Law allow authorities the discretion to deny defendants the right to a
public trial, the right to obtain and meet with legal counsel and access to
evidence in any case "involving state secrets."

In accordance with the
findings of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Zhao Yan is being
unlawfully and arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to freedom of
expression. His continued detention is also a violation of Chinese law. HRIC
calls on court officials to dismiss all charges against Zhao Yan and release him
immediately. HRIC also urges that Zhao be compensated under Chinese law for his
illegal detention.

For more information on state secrets and information
control in China, please refer to the HRIC resources below. An HRIC report on
state secrets in China is forthcoming.

  • HRIC with China Labour Bulletin, "Labor and State Secrets," China
    Rights Forum
    , No. 3 2004, p. 23, available at href="">

  • HRIC Case Highlight: Shi Tao and Yahoo, available at href="">

  • He Qinglian, "Media Control in China," China Rights Forum, No. 4,
    2004, p. 11, available at href="">
    report [PDF, 4.1M] available in Chinese at href="">

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