A Beijing court sentenced Chinese journalist Gao Yu to seven years in prison after she was found guilty of leaking state secrets to foreign contacts.
Gao’s verdict was handed down at the Third Intermediate People’s Court today, five months after she stood trial there. Her defense lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said in a New York Times report that the delayed verdict was unusual and may suggest that there was some uncertainty about how to handle the case. Gao said she plans on appealing.
“This outcome was expected, but we still feel it was wrong not to listen to the defense lawyers’ arguments,” Gao’s younger brother, Gao Wei, told the Times by telephone following the hearing. “I signaled to her and told her to stay well. She said, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to appeal.’”
The 71-year-old writer was detained on April 24 last year, the same day she was meant to attend a private meeting commemorating the 25th anniversary of the crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Human rights observers had speculated that authorities were attempting to put activists “out of action” before the June 4 anniversary.
Weeks later, Gao appeared in a televised “confession” on CCTV saying that she was “willing to accept legal punishment” for “breaking the law”. Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer, soon after told the Committee to Protect Journalists that Gao “must have faced very severe pressure during detention” to confess to such accusations and during trial, the journalist herself said she’d only made the statement because she was worried about her son, who had been detained with her.
Gao’s lawyers and supporters maintain that the charges against her are baseless, even going by the Chinese government’s loose definition of “state secrets”, according to the Times report.
Mr. Mo said that Ms. Gao was convicted of disclosing a Communist Party directive that had already been widely summarized on government websites. The directive, called “Document No. 9,” laid out the party’s plans for an offensive against liberal political ideas and values. According to Mr. Mo, the verdict said that in July 2013, Ms. Gao gave the document to the Mirror Media Group, a Chinese news outlet based in the United States. The company, which published the directive, has denied receiving it from her.
“There’s absolutely no basis for the case,” Ho Pin, the chief executive of the Mirror Media Group, said by telephone from New York after the verdict was announced. “There was no evidence. But they’ve delivered this verdict to use this case against Gao Yu to deter press freedom from emerging in China.”
Gao had previously been imprisoned for 15 months after supporting the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989 and was arrested again in 1993 for leaking state secrets. She spent six years in jail and afterwards worked as a writer and and political commentator. She often criticized the Chinese government and its leadership, including Xi Jinping.
Gao, named one of the International Press Institute’s 50 “world press heroes” in 2000, penned commentary for the Chinese-language website of German-based news service Deutsche Welle regularly before her arrest.
Amnesty China has called her sentencing “an affront to justice and an attack on freedom of expression”.