China is "the world's biggest prison for journalists," says Reporters without Borders in a new report. And earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists said China has been "the world's leading jailer of journalists" for the last five years.
Among the dozens of journalists currently in jail in China is Zhao Yan, a researcher for the New York Times newspaper. Chinese authorities detained him in mid-September but did not allow him to see a lawyer or his relatives at that time. More than a month later, he was charged with revealing Chinese state secrets to foreigners. Susan Chira, foreign editor of the New York Times, said, "We can categorically deny that Mr. Zhao has provided state secrets to our newspaper." Soon after Zhao Yan's arrest, says State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli, U.S. officials brought up his case with the Chinese government:
"We are concerned about this case and its implications for journalists working in China. . . . We are seeking clarification of his status and expressing our concern for his welfare, and underscoring our view that the role of a free press is critical in providing information to build a strong civil society."
On his recent trip to China, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed again to senior Chinese officials the U.S. concern over the arrest of Zhao Yan. But so far, Chinese officials have been unresponsive.
All such prisoners of conscience deserve to be freed. As Vice President Dick Cheney told a Chinese audience in Shanghai earlier this year, "The desire for freedom is universal. . . . And it is something that successful societies. . .have learned to embrace, rather than fear."