Zhao Yan, who had worked as a researcher for the paper before his arrest in September last year, won the Reporters Without Borders 2005 prize this month for journalists who have “shown a strong commitment to press freedom”.
Mo Shaoping, Zhao’s lawyer, said: “The way they have done this shows they know how controversial the charge is.”
The prosecution sent the case “back for reinvestigation twice and then waited until the last day to notify us”, he said.
The bill of indictment would probably be received by the court next week, Mo said. Once it is received, the court would have between one and one-and-a-half months to hear the case.
Zhao, 43, faces a possible prison sentence of 10 years or longer after security officials charged him with telling the New York Times details about rivalry between Jiang Zemin, China’s outgoing Communist Party leader, Hu Jintao, his successor.
Zhao also faces a lesser charge of fraud.
“Zhao’s arrest has spread fear among the dozens of Chinese journalists working for the increasingly
His lawyers said they had not seen the bill of indictment, and so did not know the specific allegations.
But an earlier arrest sheet said Zhao had passed on claims about rivalry between Jiang and Hu over postings to senior military positions. It also accused Zhao of defrauding a man in
Ding Xikui, a colleague of Mo, said: “The specifics probably haven’t changed, but we’ll wait to read the indictment.”
Zhao would defend himself and plead not guilty on both charges, Mo said.
Earlier this year, Chinese security officials had recommended that Zhao receive a heavy sentence, citing his lack of co-operation in their investigation.
The Times reported on 7 September last year that Jiang was to retire as chairman of China’s Central Military Commission – his last official post – and would hand full formal power to Hu. Jiang retired from the chairmanship 12 days later.
Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for journalists’ rights worldwide, said: “Zhao’s arrest has spread fear among the dozens of Chinese journalists working for the increasingly
numerous foreign media presence in China.”
His arrest is the most prominent of a series of jailings of Chinese reporters that have stoked international criticism of the country’s media controls.
In April, China arrested Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based reporter for Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, on spying charges.
The same month, Shi Tao, a Chinese reporter, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “revealing state secrets” after he sent propaganda department directives to an overseas website.
Zhao has been held in a Beijing state security detention centre. His family has been barred from communicating with him, and his lawyer has been permitted only limited visits.
Zhao once worked as a police officer, and before joining the Times in May 2004 he had gained a national reputation as a combative investigative journalist who specialised in corruption cases and rural injustice.
Ding said that he had last visited Zhao a few weeks ago and he had seemed physically and mentally “OK”.
Chinese human rights activists, many of whom knew Zhao, criticised the prosecution.
Li Baiguang, a friend of Zhao’s who worked with him on anti-corruption investigations, said: “Under China’s judicial system, with its lack of transparency and redress, we just don’t know what holes there are in procedures and evidence, but we’ll be looking very closely.”