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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 September 2007, 02:14 GMT 03:14 UK
China frees NY Times researcher
New York Times researcher Zhao Yan (photo courtesy New York Times)
Zhao Yan always denied charges against him (Pic: NY Times)
A Chinese journalist working for the New York Times has been freed after almost three years in jail in China.

Zhao Yan was arrested in 2004 and later charged with leaking state secrets, prompting condemnation from human rights groups and Western governments.

That charge was dropped but he was then convicted of defrauding an official of $2,500 - a charge he has always denied.

On his release, he was met by friends and relatives including his sister, who said he was in good spirits.

Zhao Yan was released from prison early on Saturday morning, but chose not to make any kind of statement.

Reporting restrictions

Mr Zhao, 45, works as a research assistant for the New York Times in China.

He was detained by state security forces in September 2004 after writing a short note about political rivalries among China's leaders.

Mr Zhao is thought to have originally been detained in connection with a New York Times report about plans by ex-President Jiang Zemin to retire from his top military post.

At the time, Mr Jiang's intention would have been a closely guarded secret, and any leak regarded as a serious offence.

Mr Zhao was eventually sentenced to three years for fraud, and those three years are now up.

The New York Times says that it is delighted Zhao Yan has been released, says the BBC's James Reynolds, in Beijing.

The newspaper says that his only offence seems to have been practising journalism, while human rights organisations say that this case demonstrates how hard it is for Chinese journalists to report what is really going on in the country, he adds.

China is currently detaining more than 80 Chinese journalists and bloggers, according to the rights group Reporters Without Borders.

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