BEIJING—A one-day trial against a New York Times researcher on charges of fraud and leaking state secrets—a case considered a critical test of China's willingness to respect the rights of the accused—ended Friday with no immediate verdict.
Authorities kept the trial of Zhao Yan behind closed doors and have offered almost no details about the charges against him. Defense attorneys weren't permitted to bring witnesses into the courtroom.
Zhao has been in jail since September 2004, when he was arrested in connection with a New York Times story that detailed the plans of ex-President Jiang Zemin to relinquish his final post in power as head of the commission that oversees the People's Liberation Army.
Since his arrest, Zhao has seen charges filed against him, dropped in March prior to a trip by President Hu Jintao to the United States, then re-filed after Hu's return, highlighting the often arbitrary nature of such sensitive cases when they involve senior figures in China's Communist Party.
Zhao's high-profile case has come up regularly in meetings between President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and their Chinese counterparts, U.S. officials say.
Zhao testified on his own behalf despite ailments from his prolonged confinement, said Mo Shaoping, one of his two lawyers. Joseph Kahn, the Times Beijing bureau chief who wrote the 2004 report on Jiang, was prepared to testify but spent much of the day outside the court.
Zhao could face up to 10 years in jail on the charges. Under Chinese law, a verdict could come by the end of the month, Mo said, although the court may delay it further.
Zhao's lawyers expressed little hope that he would be cleared of the charges.
"The verdict will be influenced by many uncertain factors," said Guan Anping, another defense lawyer for Zhao. "There is no way for me to make predictions."
Zhao's older sister, Zhao Kun, spent the day outside the Beijing No. 2 People's Intermediate Court, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sibling she hasn't seen in nearly two years.
Zhao had worked at the Times Beijing bureau for only a few months at the time of his arrest. Earlier, he'd worked for the magazine China Reform and had helped poor rural peasants organize in cases where their rights had been abused.
He's one of several journalists arrested under China's severe laws on state secrets. Last year, a Hong Kong-based correspondent for the Straits Times newspaper of Singapore, Ching Cheong, was accused of spying for Taiwan, a charge that could bring the death penalty.
(Knight Ridder special correspondent Linjun reported from Beijing. Johnson reported from Shanghai, China.)
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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