updated 8/24/2006 11:36:54 PM ET 2006-08-25T03:36:54

A Chinese researcher for The New York Times was acquitted Friday of state secrets charges but was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison, one of his defense lawyers said.

Zhao Yan, 44, was detained in 2004. The government has not released details of the charges, but the case is believed to stem from a Times report on then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin’s plans to relinquish his post as head of the military.

Zhao’s lawyer, Guan Anping, said he didn’t know whether Zhao would appeal the conviction, which was handed down by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court.

Zhao’s case was dismissed in March in an apparent effort to minimize strains with Washington before President Hu Jintao visited the United States. The charges were later refiled and Zhao stood trial in June.

Zhao could have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted of “disclosing state secrets to foreigners.”

Free press activists have criticized a case as an attempt by Chinese authorities to intimidate reporters. Zhao’s lawyers have complained that authorities violated Chinese regulations by failing to release him after the case initially was dismissed.

Zhao was detained after the Times reported in 2004 that Jiang was preparing to step down from his last major post as chairman of the body that runs China’s military. The ruling Communist Party treats such information as important secrets.

Before joining the Times’ Beijing bureau, Zhao was an investigative reporter for Chinese publications and wrote about complaints of official corruption and abuses in the countryside.

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