IN OTHER WORDS : Dark signal

Before President Hu Jintao of China visited the US earlier this spring, there was hope that his government would free Zhao Yan, a long time journalist who is now a researcher for The New York Times. Zhao was being held on political charges, the prosecution’s attempt to make him the scapegoat for a Times article that had apparently outraged Chinese leaders.

And when those charges were dropped shortly before Hu met with President Bush, it raised the possibility that Zhao would be released immediately.

Now, that hope seems lost. Last week, prosecutors reinstated the old charges against Zhao word for word, charge for charge. The reinstatement is doubly distressing. Zhao was not in fact a source for a Times exclusive two years ago on the announcement of a change of leadership. And Chinese laws forbid double jeopardy, so this second charge on the same offence runs directly counter to the country’s own code.

By keeping Zhao Yan in jail for almost 21 months, the Chinese will help remind the Olympic community — and particularly Hein Verbruggen, head of the commission overseeing

the Beijing Games — that the laws of China do not always apply to journalists. And Zhao’s treatment should be another signal that the rule of law in China is still little more than a handy slogan. — The New York Times