Advertising copywriting is perhaps the sole facet of newspaper publishing in the People's Republic of China where freedom of speech is permitted. In the nation's press, however, it is regarded as 'espionage'.

Zhao Yan, a researcher for the New York Times Beijing bureau, was detained by Chinese police fifteen months ago, prompting an outcry by press freedom groups.

He is charged with "providing state secrets abroad," but despite his incarceration since September 2004, the ruling communist junta has yet to release details of the exact nature of Zhao's alleged 'crime'.

However, it is thought to be connected with a report in the NYT last year about plans by former President Jiang Zemin to relinquish a key Communist Party military post.

Zhao's lawyer revealed Friday that prosecutors told him the case had been passed to a Beijing court. Chinese law now requires the court to commence the trial within six weeks.

In a society where press freedom is a cosmetic illusion designed to assuage world public opinion about the massive volume of Western investment in the communist nation, premature publication of possible leadership changes is treated as a serious offence.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders this month named Zhao winner of an award for "journalists who, through their work, attitude or principled stands, have shown a strong commitment to press freedom."

China's Foreign Ministry is not best pleased by this, criticising it as potential encouragement to other reporters to "steal" secrets. The ministry also questioned the award's timing, saying it might be an attempt to interfere in Zhao's trial.

The planet's fastest growing economy is also its leading jailer of reporters - a record it has held for six consecutive years. At the end of 2004, the People's Paradise held forty-two journalists in custody, the majority under national security or subversion laws.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff