After holding Zhao Yan, a journalist, for 15 months without a hearing, Chinese authorities have finally drummed up an indictment. Friday, on the last working day for prosecutors to decide whether to go forward with the case under Chinese law, Zhao, a researcher in the Beijing bureau of The New York Times, was formally charged with revealing state secrets to the newspaper and the lesser charge of fraud. If convicted, he faces a possible minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment.
The Chinese authorities had been holding Zhao in purgatory since yanking him from a restaurant in September 2004. His arrest followed the pattern for Chinese who dare to practice journalism. The accusation of providing state secrets to foreigners is the vague catchall that leaders invoke after reports surface of some business they want to keep quiet. In this case, a Times article forecast the retirement of China’s leader, Jiang Zemin, from his last official post.