HONG KONG — ; China has rejected an international outcry over the detention of one of the country's top investigative journalists, as a press freedom group slammed a recent crackdown by the Beijing authorities on freedom of information.
"The Chinese citizen, Zhao Yan, is suspected of illegally possessing Chinese state secrets. The relevant departments are investigating him in accordance with the law," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a regular news briefing.
"Undoubtedly, this is China's internal matter in which outsiders should not meddle," Kong said.
Zhao, who was working for The New York Times as a researcher at the time of his detention, hadn’t been formally charged, his lawyer Mo Shaoping told reporters.
Passing state secrets to foreigners is a charge frequently used in China to target journalists who break sensitive political news.
Meanwhile, the Paris-based media freedom group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), accused China of being "openly contemptuous" of its current human rights dialogue with the European Union—detailing a wave of closures of publications and public forums and arrests of journalists in recent weeks.
Zhao, a former reporter for the magazine China Reform , was suspected of helping to break the sensitive news that former president Jiang Zemin planned to retire from politics at the Communist Party's Fourth Plenum earlier this month.
The U.S. State Department said Monday it was concerned for press freedom in China after Zhao's detention and was seeking clarification.
Zhao has long been the target of harassment by those in power exposed in his reports.
He told RFA's Mandarin service in a recent interview that his ailing father had died following a police raid on his home. And a peasant rights activist said police in the southeastern province of Fujian had tried to pressure him to help frame Zhao.
Zhao was well known for his in-depth reporting of injustices suffered by China's peasants.
He was instrumental in bringing to public notice the plight of 20,000 relocated farmers in the northern city of Tangshan, who had tried to get the city’s Party secretary removed through a petition to China's parliament, the National People's Congress.
The New York Times has denied their researcher was involved in passing on state secrets, saying that their prediction that Jiang would step down came from a different source.
Chinese security agents arrested the researcher on Sept. 17. Two days later, Jiang stepped down from his post as head of the military at the annual meeting of the ruling Communist Party's elite Central Committee.
China launched a crackdown on thousands of petitioners in the capital in the run-up to the Plenum, rounding them up and herding them to camp-style detention in a stadium. Local media avoided covering the story.
Beijing also closed a popular and highly influential Web discussion forum, Yitahutu, prompting an outcry at the country's prestigious Beijing University.
The government also closed the diplomatic bimonthly Zhanlue Yu Guanli ( Strategy and Management ) in September after it carried an article by economist Wang Zhongwen in its August issue that criticized the North Korean regime
RSF called on the Chinese authorities to reopen the Yitahutu discussion forum, the Wikipedia site, and the thousands of other sites forbidden to Chinese Internet users.