“While we’re gratified that the states secret charge was dismissed, it’s clear the government never had a valid case,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The prison term handed down on the other count shows that China is still intent on jailing critical journalists and stifling the media.”
The Beijing Number 2 Intermediate Court found “insufficient evidence” for the states secret charge, according to press reports. The government never disclosed the basis for the charge, but Zhao was detained in September 2004 after a Times article correctly predicted the retirement of former president Jiang Zemin from his final government position at the head of the Central Military Commission. The Times has said Zhao provided no state secrets to the newspaper.
The acquittal is a rare instance in which a Chinese court rejected a prosecution attempt to jail a journalist on an antistate charge, CPJ research shows. More than three-quarters of the 32 journalists jailed in China at the end of 2005 were being held on various antistate charges.
The fraud charge stems from an unrelated 2001 accusation that Zhao took 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) from a local official with the promise of helping him get released from a work camp. Details of the allegation were first made public today.
The fraud charge was not brought until April 2005—several months after Zhao was first taken into custody. Zhao was held for months without access to a lawyer, according to CPJ sources.
Zhao, 44, was tried in a secret one-day proceeding on June 16, at which he was not allowed to call defense witnesses. “A two-year detention, secret evidence, and a closed trial all point to the government’s ongoing campaign to control the press through intimidation,” Simon said.