U.S.-based Chinese scholar charged as spy in China

Woman had been held by police for 51 days


BEIJING - A U.S.-based Chinese scholar who has been in police detention for 51 days was formally charged yesterday of being a spy for an overseas organization, a serious crime that potentially carries a long prison term if convicted.

State Security officers faxed a copy of the charges to relatives of the scholar, Gao Zhan, who live in the central Chinese city of Nanjing, said Jerome Cohen, a New York lawyer and expert on the Chinese legal system who is working on the case. The document did not include any evidence to support the charges, he said, adding, "there is no evidence to support that."

Gao, her husband and her 5-year-old son were detained Feb. 11 at the Beijing airport as they were preparing to return to their home in the United States after a three-week visit to China to see family members for the Chinese New Year.

The formal charges bring Gao one step closer to a courtroom, since they indicate that the Chinese prosecutors agree that the police have a case worthy of court.

In another detention last year involving a U.S.-based academic, Song Yongyi, Chinese prosecutors refused to allow police to press ahead with a charge of selling state secrets and forced them to settle with a lesser charge. Song, of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., was released after six months of detention after U.S. politicians and academics campaigned to free him.

Gao and her husband, Xue Donghua, who were both born in China but hold U.S. green cards, were taken to separate locations. The son, Andrew, who is a U.S. citizen, spent 26 days in a Chinese children's home. The U.S. Embassy was not notified of his detention, a violation of international law.

Gao's husband and son were released March 8 and returned to the United States.

The detention of Gao, a sociologist affiliated with American University in Washington, D.C., who studies women's issues, has perplexed China scholars worldwide, since many study far more sensitive topics.

Two other Chinese-born scholars also have been detained since late last year and are still in prison, raising concerns that China is orchestrating a crackdown on the many Chinese-born foreign-based researchers in the country.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has called the detention of Gao's son "outrageous," and several congressmen have called for her release. A number of international academics are preparing a petition to the Chinese government on her behalf.

Cohen said that the police treatment of Gao had violated many provisions of China's criminal code. Gao's Chinese lawyer had not been able to meet with her and she was detained without formal charges for a longer period of time than is legally allowed.

The one hopeful byproduct of filing formal charges is that it "brings the case more into the legal system," Cohen said, in theory requiring the police to provide a written denial if they continue to refuse Gao access to an attorney and that denial can be contested.

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