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China drops case against Times man

Researcher had been held since paper ran story

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has agreed to drop charges against a Chinese journalist who worked as a researcher for the New York Times, according to his lawyer.

Zhao Yan, jailed for the past 17 months after his arrest on charges of fraud and illegally releasing state secrets, is likely to be released soon, defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said .

Mo said the prosecutors had "applied to withdraw the charges and the Beijing court agreed."

"In effect, this means that only if new evidence or facts come up, can prosecutors revive these charges and I'm confident that's not going to happen," Mo was quoted as saying in a report from the Reuters news service.

Zhao's arrest on October 20, 2004 came after the Times published a story saying then-President Jiang Zemin would be stepping down as head of the military.

Zhao's case was threatening to overshadow Chinese President Hu Jintao's upcoming visit to the United States.

Hu is expected to make his first formal visit as president to the United States in April. His previous trip to Washington was canceled due to Hurricane Katrina, although he visited the United Nations in New York.

China often times releases of dissidents or other human rights cases to coincide visits by important leaders to the United States, or a U.S. president to Beijing.

CNN's Judy Kwon in Beijing contributed to this report.

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