Chinese authorities have dropped charges of leaking state secrets against a researcher for the New York Times newspaper in Beijing. Authorities in China's eastern Shandong province sentenced another man to 10 years in prison for posting his thoughts on the Internet.
New York Times news researcher Zhao Yan was arrested in 2004, prompting protests from U.S. officials all the way up to President Bush, who has called for his release.
Zhao Yan's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told VOA Friday there was never any basis for the charges.
Mo said he believes the prosecution had no evidence to support its accusations. He said facts remain unclear and according to the law, there was no way for Zhao to be found guilty.
Zhao was charged with leaking state secrets at a time when the newspaper he worked for was reporting a rift between former president Jiang Zemin and his successor, Hu Jintao. Zhao faced 10 years in prison.
Mo said Zhao would likely be released in a few days. The United States Ambassador to China, Clark Randt, issued a statement saying he welcomes the court's decision and looks forward to Zhao's release.
The announcement that charges would be dropped comes as President Hu prepares to visit Washington next month, where U.S. officials are likely to press him on human rights in China.
Chinese communist authorities often release dissidents ahead of high level visits in an effort to head off criticism of their rights record. But analysts say contradictions remain between what officials hope to show the world and what continues to happen at home.
As news emerged that Zhao's case had been dropped, human rights advocates reported a Shandong province court's sentencing of a teacher, Ren Zhiyuan, to 10 years in prison for posting an essay on the Internet that allegedly said citizens have a right to violently overthrow a tyrant regime.
International press freedom advocates said it was hypocritical of Chinese communist authorities to condemn a person for essentially embracing a key element of Marxist theory. Julien Pain heads the Internet desk at the group Reporters Without Borders in Paris.
"I find it hypocritical to have a communist regime jailing someone who said that it was fair to overthrow tyranny by violent means because indeed it is written in every text about Marxism," he said. "That is the Marxist theory: that you can overthrow tyranny through violent means ... and that is what revolution is about. If they don't believe that you can overthrow tyranny by violent means then they shouldn't say that they are communist anymore."
Ren was arrested 10 months ago and charged with subverting state power. His sentencing comes only weeks after Chinese authorities publicly asserted that no one is in prison in China solely for posting their opinions on the Internet.