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NY Times researcher still in Chinese custody

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Mar 23 (Reuters) Chinese prosecutors turned back the sister of detained New York Times researcher Zhao Yan today when she tried to press for his release after charges of revealing state secrets and fraud were dropped against him.

The Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court agreed last Friday to a decision by prosecutors to drop the charges against Zhao in a surprise concession ahead of President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States in April.

But Zhao was still in detention at noon on Thursday.

His sister, Zhao Kun, said she had been told that the prosecutor handling Zhao's case was at a detention centre and could not meet her.

''I don't know why they haven't released him. But I want to know when they will let him go,'' the sister told Reuters.

Prosecutors and security officials may want to ensure that Zhao cannot press for compensation after possible release, said Li Baiguang, a legal expert who is a close friend of Zhao's.

Zhao's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said on Wednesday Chinese authorities would be breaking the law if they held Zhao past midnight (1600 GMT) on Wednesday when his five-day appeal period expires.

Technically, Zhao could reject the decision to drop charges against him and seek a court trial for a not-guilty verdict, but he has decided against appealing, the lawyer said.

Zhao was arrested in September 2004 and had faced 10 years in jail after the state security apparatus charged him with telling the New York Times details of rivalry between President Hu and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

His arrest came days after the Times reported that Jiang had offered to resign as chairman of the Central Military Commission, his last official post.

Before starting work for the Times in early 2004, Zhao established a reputation as a crusading journalist who focused on rural corruption and discontent.

The White House said on Wednesday that Hu would meet U.S.

President George W. Bush in Washington on April 20 on what would be his first formal visit as president to the United States. His previous trip to Washington was cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina, although he visited the United Nations in New York.

Beijing often times the release of dissidents to coincide with visits by top Chinese leaders to the United States, or senior U.S. officials to China.

REUTERS SK SND1244

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