China jails outspoken journalist, 71, for 7 years
A Chinese court on Friday convicted a 71-year-old journalist of leaking state secrets and jailed her for seven years, it said, with rights groups condemning the “arbitrary” verdict as a “blow to free expression.”
Gao Yu — named one of the International Press Institute’s 50 “world press heroes” in 2000 — “illegally provided state secrets to foreigners,” Beijing’s No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court said on a verified social media account.
The ruling said that Gao had leaked a 2013 directive by the ruling Communist party named “Document number 9” to a Hong Kong media outlet.
The document warns of the “dangers” of multiparty democracy, independent media, “universal” definitions of human rights, and criticism of the party’s historical record, according to copies widely circulated online.
“We are very disappointed with this verdict,” said Shang Baojun, one of her lawyers, who argued in court that a “confession” from Gao had been extracted after threats were made against her son.
Gao is “the victim of vaguely worded and arbitrary state-secret laws that are used against activists as part of the authorities’ attack on freedom of expression,” said William Nee, a researcher for Britain-based Amnesty International.
Known for her outspoken support for democracy and press freedom, Gao went missing last April and resurfaced on China’s state broadcaster a month later admitting she had made a “mistake.”
Shang said the main evidence presented at Gao’s trial in November was a “confession” she made after police threatened the journalist’s son — who they had also detained.
He added that after the verdict was read out Gao stated in a “strong voice” that she would appeal, but was not allowed to make any further statement.
The court denied the defence access to documents used to convict her, the lawyer said. The septua- genarian suffers from high blood pressure and Shang added he was “very worried” about her health.
‘Blow to free expression’
Her political writings saw her jailed for six years in the 1990s, also on a charge of “leaking state secrets.”
She was detained again in the lead-up to the Tiananmen crackdown’s 25th anniversary last year, as were dozens of other government critics, and her one-day trial was conducted in secret.
Prosecutors said that a researcher affiliated with China’s agriculture ministry gave Gao a copy of “Document number 9” in 2013, according to a copy of the verdict posted online by friends of Gao and confirmed to AFP by Shang.
The prosecution said she had used the online telecommunications tool Skype to transfer the document to Ho Pin, head of Hong Kong-based publishing house Mirror Books, one of many outlets which has released the text in the last two years.
Mirror Books denied receiving the document from Gao in a statement posted online Friday.
The U.S. said last year it was “deeply concerned” by the criminal proceedings against Gao.
Her arrest “was part of an effort to intimidate and silence journalists and activists” ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary, the U.S. chapter of free speech group PEN International said in a statement.
The verdict was “another blow to free expression and press freedom in China,” it added.
Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the case had been handled “in accordance with the law.”
“This is a matter of China’s internal sovereignty,” he told reporters.
Ahead of the ruling, Francebased Reporters without Borders said it would be a gauge of “how far the Chinese authorities are ready to go in order to suppress those who speak with an independent voice.”
The group ranked China 176th out of 180 countries in its 2015 Press Freedom Index.
Anti-Beijing protesters hold pictures of jailed veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu during a rally outside Chinese central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Friday, April 17.