An Investigative News Report by Zhao Yan (赵岩)


[translation]  According to reports, renowned peasants rights crusader Zhao Yan was being set up on charges of conspiracy and oppression by local government and law enforcement authorities.  At 11am on July 8th, the peasant rights representatives Wu Zhongkai in Hongsi Village, Qingkou Town, Minhou County, Fuzhou City telephoned sociologist Zhang Yaojie that the Fuzhou City public security police ordered him to denounce Zhao Yan and legal scholar Li Beiguan.  The police told Wu outright that Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang are criminals and that Wu must dissociate from them as well as denounce them.  Wu refused to cooperate with the police and fled into the hills under the protection of the villagers, and he had to spend the night sleeping in the cemetery.  Wu said that he was not sure that where he could go in safety.

Certain local governments have been going after Zhao Yan before that.  On June 9th, 2004, the Fujian Province and the Fuzhou City public security bureau police barged into the home of Zhao Yan in faraway Harbin province.  At the time, Zhao was not home but his elderly and ill father was so scared that he fell out of bed.  Afterwards, his condition deteriorated and he died a few days later.

After the February 2004 issue of China Reform came out, nine members of the Fujian Province Fuzhou City Minhou County Standing Committee each contributed 30,000 yuan out of their own pockets for a total of 270,000 yuan and attempted to get Zhao Yan's name delisted from China Reform.  Indeed, Zhao Yan's name did not appear in the March 2004 issue of the magazine, and he was also forced to resign from China Reform in April that year.  

More recently, the Fujian Province Fuzhou City government and the Hebei Province Tangshan government and their local governments have tried their best to track down Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang.  The two are currently outside Beijing on business, but their situation is perilous and their fates are foreseeable.

The following article was written by Zhao Yan.

What did the peasants get in the modernization of Qingkou Town?

Recently, this magazine received various letters of complaint sent in by peasants from various places.  Among these, the problems presented by the peasants of Qingkou Town, Minhou County, Fuzhou City, Fujian Province were particularly striking.  The reporter conducted an investigation and found out while the place looked very different now from the outside, there was much going on that was contrary to the "Three Representatives" principle.

1.  800 Yuan For Your Life Holdings

On a certain autumn day in 1995, in the villages of Jishan, Hongyi, Honger, Hongsan, Hongsi, Fuzhu. Lianfung and Meiling in Qingkou Town, Minhou County, Fuzhou City, a very exciting piece of news circulated among the 20,000 plus peasants: "A Taiwan business intends to invest large amounts of money to build a Southeastern Automobile Town here, and we can all become workers at the automobile factory!"

Propaganda teams and work groups came to the villages from the town and county.  The government's promise was very enticing: each person in the village will receive a 10,000 yuan relocation fee.  Those under 50 years old can receive at least 50 yuan in pension, and every household can have at least one or two persons employed at the automobile factory.  The peasants thought this was worth their while, so these villages agreed to sell their land and the land acquisition work for the Southeastern Automobile Town went smoothly.

In the winter of 1995, the construction for the Southeastern Automobile Town broke ground.  On the soil that the peasant families of Qingkou Town have tilled for many generations, new modern factories rose up.  Yet, as of today, the expectant peasants did not receive the benefits that the government promised them.  On August 31, several dozens of 60 plus year old peasants in Hongshan and Hongsi Villages of Qingkou Town cried to this reporter: "In the autumn of 1995, the county government made some great promises.  We thought that each family will received several tens of thousands of yuan in relocation compensation.  Each family can have one person working in the factory while we can use the relocation fee to start a small business.  But someone changed something along the way.  The compensation fee for the peasants went from the 10,000 yuan per peson to 800 yuan to 1,000 yuan per person.  For 800 yuan, the peasants sold out the land upon which their livelihood depends.  Do you think this is reasonable?"

800 yuan.  There is no way that this reflects the value of the acquired land.  So how much did the Southeastern Automobile Town spend on acquiring the land?

On the morning of September 3, 2003, the reporter and two others went to Minhou County.  The reporter was able to read the document number 163 [1995] titled "Some ideas from the Chinese Communist Party Fuzhou City Committee and Fuzhou City People's Government Concerning the Development of the Automobile Industry" and signed by the County Committee Deputy Chairman and this was what the reporter read:

"The Southern Automobile Town shall require a total of 1,200 mu (=80 acres) of land.  The section to be used for automobile accessories will be 1,200 mu (=80 acres).  The automobile accessories section will be procured and developed piecemeal by the foreign businesses.  The land shall be sold at a price of 13,000 yuan per mu (including tax), of which 10,000 yuan per mu shall be the compensation to the peasants with the remaining going to the infrastructure needs outside of the factory that will be addressed by the Minkou County government.  The City and the County will return all the collected taxes from the land sales to the investment zone of Qingkou for infrastructure construction ..."

If this document is authentic, then the the total compensation of 10,000 yuan per mu is probably even on the low side.  So how come they peasants were only getting 800 yuan as relocation compensation?  The reporter conducted some further investigation.

2.  Where Did The Life Money Of The Peasants Go?

How much money did the Southeastern Automobile Town actually spend on acquiring the land?

On September 3, 2003, the reporters received a telephone call from a cadre at the Fuzhou City Disciplinary Committee.  The cadre would not reveal this name, but he told the reporter: "The compensation money for the peasants were held back by Minhou County and Qingkou Town.  The leadership of the Minghou County wanted to show some accomplishments, and they used the peasants' money to invest in shares of the automobile town."  He added: "Among the first phase investment of 1.3 billion yuan in the Southeastern Automobile Town, mainland China and Taiwan each held 50%.  Of the 50% from mainland China, Fuzhou City had 10%, the city trust investment fund had 5% and Minhou County had 5% as well.  But since Minhou County did not have that kind of money at the time, they held back most of the peasants' money and used that as investment."

If such was the case, then it was a miracle that the peasants even got 800 yuan!

Where did the life money of the peasants go?  The Qingkou Town party committee member Chen Huojin had a different explanation.

At noon on September 4th, Secretary Chen told his reporter: "We considered the fact that the quality of the peasants was not very high at the time.  If we gave all the money to the peasants in one lump sum, some of them would have spent all the money immediately.  We put most of the peasants' money into an agricultural fund, which includes funds to support agricultural production, for food purchases, for savings and for retirement."

The reporters then asked: "Did you discuss with the peasants about placing most of their money into a fund?  Now that the money is in a fund, how much is the annual interest?  Do the peasants have the freedom to particpate or withdraw?  How is the contract with the peasants done?  Whose responsibility is it if the fund loses money?"

Secretary Chen did not have a response.

According to Secretary Chen: "The Southeastern Aautomobile Town has acquired a total of more than 4,000 mu of land in two phases.  Based upon the contract with the Taiwan business, the land compensation rates are identical for the first and second phases.  The peasants are now complaining about the problem with the price of land in the second phase.  But how can we change a contract that was already signed?  Our government must keep its word to the outside."

The reporter had seen in the hands of the peasants the document number 216 [1996] from the Fujian government titled "Fujian Province People's Government's Comments On The Acquisition Land For the Construction Of Southeastern (Fujian) Automobile Industrial Corporation (Limited)", which contained the following:

To The People's Government of Fuzhou City:

We have received Document 216 [1996).  We agree to the acquisition of 4.5837 qing (=6.667 hectares) of arable land from Meiling Village in Minhou County Qingkou Town, 2.486 qing from Lianfeng Village, 1.2014 qing from Hongsi Village plus 1.1289 non-arable land for a total of 9.4 qing for the Southeastern (Fujian) Automobile Industrial Corporation for its factory (of which 1.7347 qing are national roads and county/town roads.  The term of the land use shall be 50 years, as of the date of this document.  The total sum of money for this land lease is 9,463,920 yuan (including management fee of 37,000 yuan for the leasing process).  All other requirements shall be determined elsewhere.  All taxes required by regulation shall have to be paid in full with sixty days after the contract becomes effective (reporter's note: the average cost per mu is 67,120 yuan).


The People's Government of Fujian Province

December 31, 1996.

In the above instruction, the reporter clearly saw that the price for the phase two land lease was different from that in phase one.

On September 4th, the reporter found out from the Minhou County government that between 1996 and 2001, Hongsan and Hongsi villages in Qinghou Village ceded 1,060 mu of land.  On the basis of a compensation of 10,000 yuan, the residents of the villagers should receive 1,060,000 yuan in total.  In reality, the peasants only received 248,000 yuan with a difference of 812,000 yuan.  The villagers have no idea what the county and the village did with the 812,000 yuan.

If an average of 45,000 yuan is used as the average price across two phases, the total compensation amount should be 4,770,000 yuan.  Subtracting the 248,000 yuan, that made 4,522,000 yuan that the peasants had no clue about.

In the contract to transfer the land between Qinghou Town and the village, where the county leaders have personal interests, the lowest compensation rate was 27,000 yuan per mu and the highest compensation rate was 90,000 yuan per mu.  This was also puzzling to the peasants.

After the money was sent to the village, the peasants did not receive the money themselves.  While the project was being developed, the peasants did not get any work.  But there were plenty of others who profited by speculating on the peasants' land.

3.  The Peasants Were Attacked When They Petitioned.

Towards the end of 1996, the peasants in several villages believed that the promises made by the leadership previously were empty.  So they began to petition.  They went to the city, province and central governments dozens of times and they attempted to leverage the law to resolve the problems.

On March 21, 1997, Fujian Province held a congress of its representatives to the People's Congress.  Several dozens of peasants went from Minhou Town to voice their problems.  That night, the county and town police came to arrest people.  Petition peasant Wu Yinmei heard the news and hid in Hongsi Village.  His younger brother Wu Yinhuo did not even have time to put on his pants when he was snatched and thrown into the police van.  That day, all the petitioners received phone calls from various people with the same terrorist message: "If you petition again, you are all dead!"

With the threats, the peasants changed their method of petiiton.  Dozens and then hundreds of registered letters were sent to Fuzhou and Beijing.  During the first half of 2001, peasants from several villagers went to petition at the Fujian Province Committee and People's Congress.

In July 2001, the Qingkou Town Minhou County public security bureau set up an anti-crime unit and arrested peasants Wu Shisong, Zheng Tianlung, Wu Yigan (younger brother of Wu Shisong), Wu Jianlin and Zheng Lungqi on criminal charges.  Four of the villagers were viciously beaten during their incarceration, with kneeling being the lightest punishment.

Since Wu Shisong had a liver disease and more than hundred of peasants were complaining to the provincial and city leadership over this treatment, the Minhou County public security bureau was forced to release the peasants.

After Wu Shisong got out of jail, he sought to repay the debt incurred for his internment by trying to shares 5,000 yuan in shares in a contract with the Town government.  But a town cadre told him: "You are a criminal suspect, so the shares don't exist anymore."  Wu Shisong obviously would not go along and sued in the county and the city, but this was to bring about his death.  On August 30, 2001, the Minhou County public security bureau arrested Wu Shisong and three others while knowing full well that Wu Shisong had severe liver problems.

After the arrest, Wu's wife Chen Baoying and their lawyer went to ask for bail from the county public security bureau and some police cadres there also reported the situatino to the County Political Committee leaders, but they refused to intervene.

On March 3, 2003, the County Political Committee met to discuss this case.  Based upon Doument 8 [2002] of the Minghou Political Committee: "Based upon discussion among the comrades, this case should be prosecuted by the prosecutor's office."  So the prosecutor's office began to prepare to prosecute Wu Shisong.

During the second half of May, 2001, Wu Shisong was near death and he was sent to the Fuzhou Prison Hospital for treatment.  On the morning of June 11th, the family of Wu Shisong was notified by the Minhou County Cour to pick up Wu Shisong at the hospital.

When Wu Shisong's family arrived at the hospital, he had already been carried out of the hospital and left on the sidewalk.  At this time, Wu Shisong was sinking in and out of consciousness.  His belly had swollen up like a pregnant woman and his legs were as thick as those of elephants.

On July 13, 2002, the County Judge called up the Wu house and spoke to Wu's young brother Wu Yinglung: "Even if Wu Shisong cannot move, you must still carry him to court.  Otherwise, we are going to arrest his wife."

On July 16, 2004, the Minhou County Court began the trial of Wu Shisong and others on coercing others to transact.  On the same day, the court rendered the verdict that Wu and others were guilty and sentenced them to 10 months in jail plus 10,000 yuan fine per person.

On August 9, 2002, Wu Shishong died.

4.  The Crowd Topples The Wall On Illegal Acquired Land And Ends Up In Jail.

Before one wave fades, another one rises up.

In May 2002, the peasants of Hongshan Village found out that 1.91 mu of land was sold by village committee secretary Wu Wenbo privately to an outside businessman Wu originally from Qingkou Town Honger Village.  The villagers complained many times to the town and county leaders but nobody cared.  A dozen irate villagers went ahead to topple a wall of the Xinyung Machine Factory that was being illegally built.

On August 7, the peasants toppled the wall of the factory again.  At 3pm, the factory personnel detained peasants Wu Genjin, Wu Yijian and Wu Chengwu and the three of them were held by the Qingkou Town public security bureau.

On the afternoon of September 3rd, this reporter interviewed the Minkou County public security bureau deputy director Lin.

Reporter: "If a so-called outside businessman grabs a piece of peasant land without legal process procedure, what does that constitute?"

Lin: "An illegal act."

Reporter: "Is a wall built on illegal and unapproved land protected?"

Lin: "Of course not."

Reporter: "If the wall on an illegally taken land was toppled by villagers, can it be interpreted as an act on behalf of the government to protect the land and for the peasants to protect their own interests?"

Lin: "That is so."

Reporter: "Do you realize that the factory land still has not gone through the legal steps with the land departments?"

Lin: "No."

Deputy director Lin then called in the case officer and asked about the land process.  The case officer said: "That business has not gone through the legal process yet."  Deputy director Lin told the reporter: "If it is illegal, then they should be arrested and detained for 30 days, and released after that."

On September 13, 2002, the Minkou County public security bureau issued an arrest notice to the families of Wu Yijian and the two other peasants.

In September 2002, the reporter went to Fuzhou to investigate.

On the morning of September 25, 2002, the reporter once again asked the city and county departments if Xinyung Machine Factory had completed the procedures and was told that the company had still not gone through the process.

On the morning of September 25, 2002, the Minkou County public security bureau issued another notice to demand the criminal suspects in the destruction of the property of Xinyung Corporation turn themselves in.  The peasants said: "We are just trying to defend on our piece of land.  Where is the crime?"

With the direct intervention of the Fujian Province, Fuzhou City and the Minhou County committees, the Minkou County public security bureau had to release the aforementioned three individuals on November 26, 2002.

5.  When Will The Accounts Of The Village Be Cleared Up?

Based upon the reports from the various financial work groups in the villages:

1.  In 1998, an auto repair factory was being planned for Hongshan Village.  According to the "Peasant Village Contract Management Regulations", there should have been an open bidding process.  At the time, villager Wu Guobin offered to perform all the construction work for 12,000 yuan but was rejected.  Instead, the job was given to an unqualified person for the nominal sum of 14,600 yuan.  Based upon actual payment records, a total of 38,000 yuan was actually spent.  Over the years, all the construction items such as the construction of the pedestrian walkway and the garden were made through very irregular processes.  Open bids were not used and the contracts were awarded on the basis of individual authorization.

2.  The Hongshan Auto Repair Factory paid Wu Jinhua a total of 2,400 yuan to produce an advertisement board.  No one has ever seen the board anywhere.

3.  The cadres at Hongshan Village spent a total of 13,000 yuan on entertainment in the month of January 1998 alone.  This is based upon what the villagers know, but if the accounts were audited openly, the problems might be even bigger.

4.  In 1997, Hongshan Village spent 135,000 yuan to buy an electricity generator.  After using it for less than 100 hours, it was sold for just 35,000 yuan.  This is the number recorded on the ledger.  Based upon the reporter's understanding, the machine was actually sold for 70,000 yuan and the other 35,000 has vanished somewhere.

5.  In 1999, the cadres in Hongshan village divided the public funds among themselves.  At the time, the ordinary cadre Wu Lianzeng got 2,000 yuan.  When Wu wanted to know the details, the handler said, "You already have the money.  So why are you asking about anything?"

6.  The livelihood of the 633 villagers in Jishan Village was not taken care of properly.  In October 1996, their land was acquired.  After the compensation money arrived, it was only in the spring of 1998 that the Jishan Village committee gave each person 500 yuan only, plus 75 kilograms of cereal grains.

The Minhou County treasury sends Qingkou Town 1,000,000 yuan per year as compensation for land acquisition.  According to the "Qingkou Town Southeastern AUtomobile Land Acquisition Summary Points" dated June 23, 2001, the following was acknowledged: In May this year, some of the villagers got together and caused a disturbance, thus impeding the presentation of the compensation scheme by the town party and government.  The villages were reminded that the decision to use this money should be subject to rigorous scrutiny, including the formal consideration in a meeting of village representatives with the requirement that a copy of the meeting minutes be sent to the town government for the record.

Several villages finally received their compensation.  In Hongshi Village, each person received 1,000 yuan; in Hongshan Village, each received 600 yuan.  But the villagers were still unhappy.  They said that they should also be receiving the compensation due them between the years 1997 and 2002.  Moreover, they should also have ownership in the shares of the Southeastern Automobile City owned by the county ...

The reporter has concluded his investigation in Minhou City.  The strongest feeling that the reporter got was that there wasn't an appropriate channel of communication between the peasants and the government.  Certain government departments were accustomed to making their own decisions and not used to following the law, thus leading to increased conflicts with the peasants that seemed to worsen.  It would have seem that the leadership in Minhou County should attempt to learn the "Three Representatives" principle and to learn how to serve the people!

(New York Times)  Secrecy Veils China's Jailing of a Journalist.  By Jim Yardley.  August 31, 2005.

For the more than 11 months that he has been incarcerated, Zhao Yan has been held in one of the darkest corners of China's legal system because of the accusation against him: that he leaked state secrets to his employer, The New York Times.

The accusation, which Mr. Zhao and The Times deny, deprives a defendant in China of almost all rights. Mr. Zhao still has not had a court hearing. No public explanation has been given for his arrest. He is forbidden to see his family. His lawyer's efforts to post bail were denied not by a judge but by the Ministry of State Security, the agency that arrested him.

Mr. Zhao, 43, who worked as a researcher for the newspaper's bureau in Beijing, was no stranger to State Security when it picked him up last Sept. 17 at a Pizza Hut in Shanghai. His previous work as a muckraking journalist and rural activist earned him regular visits from agents and invited speculation that his past life was the reason for his arrest.

But a confidential State Security report and interviews confirm that Mr. Zhao was the focus of a high-level investigation begun in response to an article in The Times on Sept. 7.

The article, which cited two anonymous sources, stated that Jiang Zemin, the former president and Communist Party chief, had unexpectedly offered to resign his last leadership position, as head of the military - an exclusive report that was proved accurate when Mr. Jiang retired on Sept. 19.

In many other countries, information about the future of a political leader would be considered in the public domain. But even as China's authoritarian leaders now promise a more impartial legal system to their citizens and the multinational corporations that do business here, they continue to use the loosely defined state secrets law to single out political enemies and prevent journalists from prying into the inner workings of the top leadership of the ruling Communist Party.

The Times has stated that Mr. Zhao did not provide any information about Mr. Jiang's resignation. And the confidential State Security report, which was described by Jerome A. Cohen, an adviser retained by The Times to assist with Mr. Zhao's defense, does not accuse him of doing so. 

Instead, the key evidence cited is a photocopy of a note Mr. Zhao wrote, two months before the Sept. 7 article, that makes no mention of Mr. Jiang's resignation.

The original note remains in the Beijing office of The Times, raising questions about whether state security agents induced a Chinese employee of the office to provide a copy without authorization or conducted a search without permission. In either case, under Chinese law, the photocopy would be inadmissible as evidence.

"How did they get this note?" asked Mr. Cohen, a specialist in Chinese law at New York University Law School. "China has detailed provisions about what you have to do to execute a search."

The contents of the note underscore how broadly China defines a state secret. It is a few paragraphs of political gossip about jockeying between Mr. Jiang and his successor, Hu Jintao, over the promotions of two generals.

The information was included at the bottom of the Sept. 7 article to provide context about the rivalry between the leaders.

Prosecutors are still deliberating whether to indict Mr. Zhao formally on the state secrets charge and a lesser charge of fraud, which was added later in the investigation. On July 9, prosecutors returned the case to State Security agents for another month of investigation. Legal analysts say prosecutors may believe that they need more evidence or they may simply want to delay a formal indictment.

The timing is particularly delicate because next week Mr. Hu is making his first official visit to the United States and is scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House on Sept. 7. Mr. Zhao's case has already drawn protests from international human rights groups, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

For Mr. Zhao, a conviction could mean 10 years or more in prison. His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, has argued in filings to prosecutors that both charges are without merit. He noted that investigators had not presented any evidence that Mr. Zhao had received any government documents or spoken to any government officials. Mr. Mo also argued that discussing a possible shuffling of generals should not constitute a state secret.

"We've submitted that citizens have the fundamental right to know about changes in state personnel," Mr. Mo said.

The current state secrets law was codified in 1988. In recent years academics and even some government officials have pushed to rewrite the law and tighten the definitions of state secrets. Yu Ping, a research fellow at New York University Law School and an expert on the secrets law, said that the reform process had resulted in more than a dozen drafts of a proposed new law but that so far nothing had been approved.

Mr. Yu said the current law was particularly outdated now that more information was flowing into Chinese society. Under the law, he said, some materials available in bookstores could be classified as state secrets. He said he believed that many Chinese officials initially denied the spread of sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 because revealing such an outbreak would have constituted revealing a state secret.

"Nobody is safe if the system stays this way," Mr. Yu said. He estimated that a few hundred people were charged under the law every year.

Mr. Zhao is jailed at a Ministry of Public Security detention center in southern Beijing. He has lost 22 pounds and has requested but been denied a biopsy for several lumps on his skin. "Mentally he's fine, but has also been very emotional," Mr. Mo said. "He's very emotional about these charges. He thinks they are absurd."

Mr. Zhao's arrest followed an unlikely sequence of events. Infuriated after finding a cockroach in his salad at the Pizza Hut, he complained in vain to the manager and then turned on his cellphone to ask a local reporter to come to the scene. Days earlier he had switched the phone off as a precaution. 

He often told friends that state security agents tracked his movements through surveillance of his phone. His fit of temper apparently proved it. Shortly after he activated the phone, three agents arrived and took him away.

Mr. Zhao joined The Times in April 2004 after working for more than a decade at Chinese publications, writing articles about the plight of farmers and exposés of government corruption.

Flamboyant and swaggering, Mr. Zhao was once a police officer in his hometown, Harbin, the bitterly cold provincial capital in northeast China.

But friends say he found his passion as a journalist. One friend, Li Baiguang, recalled that Mr. Zhao, under the pretense of a family visit, once dressed up as a peasant and sneaked into a prison to interview a group of farmers jailed by a corrupt official.

Asked once whether he was one of the better journalists in China, he responded with typical bravado, "I am the best." Mr. Zhao, who is divorced, introduced himself to at least one potential girlfriend as "an anticorruption warrior."

In 2002 he joined China Reform Magazine and became one of a trio of writers known for aggressive reporting on rural issues. But he soon blurred the lines between journalism and activism as he began advising farmers about drafting legal documents or petitioning officials in Beijing.

By 2003, working with Mr. Li, Mr. Zhao embraced riskier strategies and was instructing farmers on organizing recall movements against corrupt officials. He also helped prepare a lawsuit against China's cabinet.

"He's got a strong sense of justice," said Liu Jie, the woman who filed the lawsuit. "It was Zhao Yan who inspired me to learn about the law and to use it to protect myself."

But his actions did not endear him to local officials or the Ministry of State Security. By 2001 he had been detained and questioned at least once. State Security assigned agents to watch him or meet him for occasional dinners to question him about his activities.

Friends say Mr. Zhao maintained a careful relationship with the agents. When he was once late to a meeting, an agent threatened to approach his boss at China Reform. Mr. Zhao wrote the agent an apology and delivered a gift through an intermediary.

"On the one hand, Zhao Yan was respectful of State Security," said a longtime friend who insisted on remaining anonymous because of fear of reprisals. "On the other hand, he didn't let it affect his work. He was willing to maintain good relations, but he also knew how to handle them."

By early 2004, China Reform was under pressure to tone down its aggressive reporting. Mr. Zhao's friends say he quit before he could be fired. But he had become too controversial to be hired by a Chinese publication. He was also becoming desperate for income. His daughter was entering college, and he had just bought an apartment in Beijing.

He had contacts in the international press and met in April with Joseph Kahn, the Times bureau chief in Beijing. Mr. Kahn, who first met Mr. Zhao in 2003, hired him as a researcher on the condition that he stop his activism. His job would be to use his contacts to help arrange interviews and assist in developing articles.

Friends say Mr. Zhao was excited about the prestige of working for a well-known foreign newspaper and had new name cards. But some friends were worried. State Security agents often approach Chinese employees of foreign news organizations about providing information. Sometimes they offer bribes; in some cases they make threats. Some friends fretted that by helping a major foreign news outlet, Mr. Zhao would become a more vulnerable target for the many enemies he had made with his reporting and activism.

"He seemed happy, and I was happy too," the longtime friend said. "But there were other people who thought it was too sensitive and dangerous. Any job like that where Chinese and foreigners mix would have uncertainties."

Mr. Kahn said he told every new Chinese employee that his or her job was "treated as a sensitive matter by the authorities and that it is possible they would come under some type of pressure." Mr. Zhao was not concerned, he said.

"He was very confident that he could handle any sort of situation that might arise," Mr. Kahn said, adding, "I saw him as someone who could help us monitor the media and keep in touch with friends in the world of advocates."

Mr. Zhao started in May and began researching rural articles. By July several foreign newspapers and wire services were reporting possible infighting between President Hu and Mr. Jiang. 

One day, Mr. Zhao arrived with a tidbit of gossip in that vein that he handed to Mr. Kahn: that Mr. Jiang had rejected two of Mr. Hu's candidates for promotions on the Central Military Commission. It later turned out that one of the generals was, in fact, promoted.

Mr. Kahn said he had filed the item away as "potentially interesting, if true, but not something really worthy of a story in itself."

But two months later, with a major Communist Party meeting about to convene, Mr. Kahn got a tip that Mr. Jiang was offering to retire. He says he incorporated Mr. Zhao's note at the bottom of the article to help illustrate the rivalry with Mr. Hu. Otherwise, he said, Mr. Zhao was not involved.

"He had no substantial reporting role at all," Mr. Kahn said. "I think he knew about the story, and I believe he was very skeptical, just from chatting with him, about the possibility that Jiang would resign."

Within a week of the article's publication, Mr. Kahn said, Mr. Zhao arrived in the office, obviously worried. "He said he had been told that Hu Jintao had ordered an investigation of how that information got into The New York Times," Mr. Kahn recalled.

A person with a well-placed source in the government also confirmed the leak investigation.

The person, who asked not to be identified because of the political delicacy of the issue and the potential for reprisals, said the source had described it as a "high level" investigation but could not confirm any linkage to Mr. Hu.

Mr. Zhao said he had been told that he was a chief target of the investigation. "I said to him: 'You didn't have any crucial role in that story. It shouldn't be a problem,' " Mr. Kahn recalled. "He said, 'You don't know how they work.' "

Mr. Zhao asked if he could take a few days off work until the investigation calmed down. He also said he would turn off his telephone. "Then he disappeared," Mr. Kahn said.

Mr. Kahn said he learned that Mr. Zhao had been detained on the same day that Mr. Jiang's retirement was officially announced.

State secrets trials are closed to the public, and witnesses often are too afraid to appear on behalf of defendants. But Mr. Mo, the lawyer, said he planned to call Mr. Kahn as a witness in what would be a rare appearance by a foreigner at such a secret tribunal.

Mr. Zhao has apparently not buckled under the pressure of prison, isolation and nearly a year of interrogation. The State Security report to the prosecutors recommended that Mr. Zhao be indicted and noted that he had neither confessed nor been cooperative.

As a result, agents recommended a harsher sentence.

(New York Times)  Times Researcher Receives 3-Year Prison Term.  By Jim Yardley and Joseph Kahn.  August 25, 2006.

A Beijing court on Friday morning unexpectedly dismissed a state secrets charge against a researcher for The New York Times but sentenced him to three years in prison on a lesser, unrelated charge of fraud.

The verdict against the researcher, Zhao Yan, 44, spared him a prison sentence of 10 years or longer and also served as a blunt rebuke to the investigation by state security agents. Agents began detaining Mr. Zhao almost two years ago and accused him of leaking state secrets to The Times. He has consistently stated that he is innocent of both charges.


In Mr. Zhao’s case, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court rejected the state secrets charge in strong language 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.”

Mr. Zhao’s lead defense lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said, “This is the way they proclaim someone innocent.”

The case has attracted international attention, including lobbying from President Bush. The verdict had been postponed, and some legal experts had suggested that the final result would be as much a political decision by high-level government officials as a legal one.

Mr. Mo said Friday that prosecutors had 10 days to decide whether to contest the innocence verdict on the state secrets charge to a higher court. He and another defense lawyer, Guan Anping, said they would meet with Mr. Zhao to decide whether to appeal the conviction on the fraud case. The lawyers hinted that an appeal was likely.

“I am not satisfied,” his sister, Zhao Kun, said of the fraud conviction on Friday morning outside the courthouse. “The fraud charge also has no basis in fact. He should have been found completely innocent. According to my own feeling, the first charge also should never have been introduced. On this charge, the court respected the law.”

Mr. Zhao, formerly a muckraking journalist for different Chinese publications, has been imprisoned since September 2004. Under Chinese law, the time he has already served will count against his prison term. Mr. Mo said the court ruling stated that his release was scheduled for Sept. 15, 2007.

Mr. Zhao joined The Times’s Beijing bureau as a researcher in April 2004. The Times has consistently denied that he leaked any state secrets to the newspaper. “If the verdict is what it appears to be, we consider it a vindication,” said Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times. “We have always said that to the best of our knowledge the only thing that Zhao Yan committed is journalism.”


The case against Mr. Zhao was also marked by irregular and unexpected legal developments.

Earlier this year, the court withdrew both charges against him, prompting his lawyer to predict that he would soon be released. Instead, the court continued to hold Mr. Zhao, and prosecutors later reinstated the same charges. Mr. Mo vehemently complained, to no avail, that the tactic was illegal.

Jerome A. Cohen, an expert in Chinese law who has advised The Times on Mr. Zhao’s case, characterized the verdict on the state secrets charge as “an unusual and welcome precedent,” but added that it was “marred by conviction on the fraud charge, which was originally introduced as a fig leaf to justify the continuing detention of Zhao.”

He said in an e-mail message that “conviction on the fraud charge helps to ‘save face’ for the law enforcement agencies.”

Typically in state secrets cases, he said, a defendant faces a near automatic conviction when investigators have made such a lengthy effort.

Indeed, investigators added the charge several months after Mr. Zhao was arrested on Sept. 17, 2004, on the state secrets charge. It involved an accusation that Mr. Zhao, while working for a Chinese publication in 2001, had promised to write an article and intervene on behalf of a person with legal problems in exchange for a cash payment.  Mr. Zhao strongly denied the claim and a witness came forward on his behalf to dispute the charge.

The more serious state secrets charge was outlined in confidential state security investigation report. It accused him of leaking state secrets for a Times article about transition among the country’s top leaders. The article, published 10 days before Mr. Zhao was detained, revealed that former President Jiang Zemin had unexpectedly offered to resign from his final leadership position, as military chief.

The investigation report did not accuse Mr. Zhao of being one of the anonymous sources cited for Mr. Jiang’s resignation offer. Instead, security agents accused him of providing information about jockeying between Mr. Jiang and his successor, Hu Jintao, over positions in the military’s high command. A reference to this jockeying was included as context at the end of the article.

As evidence, the investigation report cited a photocopy of a note in which Mr. Zhao had scribbled down a few sentences of political gossip about the jockeying. The note was left in the Times office in Beijing. Mr. Zhao’s lawyers have maintained that such information should hardly constitute a state secret. Even so, questions remain about how security agents obtained a copy of the note. One possibility is that agents entered The Times’s Beijing bureau without permission.

Mr. Zhao’s trial was held in June. He was not allowed to call any defense witnesses and his family was forbidden from attending.