China drops case against New York Times explorer

A Chinese court on Friday dropped charges against a Chinese researcher for The New York Times who was accused of leaking state secrets, his lawyer said, ahead of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington .

Zhao Yan, who worked for the Times' Beijing bureau, was detained in September 2004, prompting an outcry by press freedom groups.

"The prosecutor decided to drop the case and the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court agreed," said defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said. He said Zhao was in a detention center but was expected to be released "very soon."

Asked why the charges were dropped, Mo cited a regulation that said prosecutors may dismiss a case if a defendant isn't believed to be the one who committed the criminal act or the facts are in question. Mo wouldn't give any other details.

Hu is due to visit Washington in April. The U.S. government has expressed concern at Zhao's case.

The government has not disclosed details of the charges against Zhao, but he was believed to have been detained in connection with a Times report in 2004 on former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's plans to step down from a key military post.

China 's secretive Communist Party rarely reveals details about leadership changes and treats leaks as a form of spying. Zhao is one of several journalists recently detained or sentenced to long prison terms under China 's vaguely defined state secrets law.

The Times has said Zhao's indictment was tantamount to conviction. It also said Zhao was not involved in the story.

Thirty-two journalists were jailed in China as of Dec. 1, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Most were held under national security or subversion laws, reports the AP.


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