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China jails researcher
- Secrets charge dropped

Beijing, Aug. 25 (Reuters): A Beijing court dismissed charges that a Chinese researcher for the New York Times had illegally leaked state secrets, but sentenced him to three years for fraud, capping weeks of confrontation over citizens’ legal rights.

Zhao Yan, 44, had been accused of telling the US newspaper details of rivalry between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, over military appointments in 2004.

The paper reported in September that year that Jiang was likely to retire as China’s military chief, handing over his sole remaining post to Hu — a forecast that turned out to be true.

But in an unexpected turn today, the court said there was “insufficient evidence” for the state secrets charge, which had made Zhao a focus of US human rights pressure on China. “We maintain that Zhao Yan is innocent but I was surprised. He seemed surprised as well,” said defence lawyer Guan Anping.

The court did, however, find Zhao guilty of fraud, saying that in 2001 he took 20,000 yuan ($2,500) from a village official on the unfulfilled promise of helping him avoid “labour re-education” — a form of imprisonment.

Had Zhao been convicted on the much graver secrets charge, he would have faced 10 years or more in a high-security jail, said Guan. “The case will stand as a rare example of a (Chinese) court being allowed or instructed to acquit on a charge of the utmost sensitivity”, Jerome Cohen, a US expert on Chinese law.

Zhao’s lawyers said he now had 10 days to decide whether to appeal the sentence. Given the two years he has already spent in detention, the sentence would keep him in jail until September 2007. Zhao was adamant he was innocent of fraud and would probably appeal, his sister, Zhao Kun, said.

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