IN OTHER WORDS : Censorship

Someone in China’s autocracy may have a sense of shame or vulnerability. But only up to a point. A Chinese court last week dismissed a specious state secrets charge against a New York Times researcher and journalist, Zhao Yan.

Unfortunately, the court then sentenced him to three years in prison on a lesser but still specious charge of fraud. Beijing’s political leadership has been rightly criticised, including by the White House, for its unfair treatment of Zhao, whose prosecution was seen as a warning to anyone who dared report the truth in China. The court’s decision to drop the more serious charge of disclosing state secrets, which could have brought Zhao a sentence of 10 years or more, is most likely a reaction to those criticisms.

But dictators always need to save face. Ergo the lesser conviction for fraud, Zhao could be released by September 2007. That is still unacceptable. And China needs to be told it is not off the hook. Zhao was arrested after this newspaper correctly reported that former president Jiang Zemin was ready to give up his final post as military chief.

The article infuriated China’s leadership, and Zhao was arrested. Zhao was not allowed to call any defence witnesses at his trial. China should be ashamed of this abuse of its legal system and of the mistreatment of Zhao. — The New York Times