Veteran journalist Gao Yu, an Honorary Director of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for ‘leaking state secrets abroad’. Gao Yu was sentenced by the Beijing Third Intermediate People’s Court on 17 April 2015 during a largely closed trial which had lasted nearly five months. Gao Yu denied the charge and is expected to appeal the verdict at the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court.
Gao Yu, now 71-years-old, went missing on 24 April 2014. No information concerning her fate was released until 8 May 2014 when the official Chinese news agency Xinhua confirmed that she was detained by Beijing police. Footage of her ‘confessing’, which she later said was taken under duress after police threatened to arrest her son, was shown on state television and used as evidence in court. There are serious concerns for her health and well-being in prison.
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According to PEN International’s information, Beijing-based veteran dissident journalist Gao Yu was convicted of ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ and sentenced to seven years in prison on 17 April 2015. During her trial, which began behind closed doors on 21 November 2014 only the prosecutors, Gao’s lawyers, the judges and court staff and a few court police were present owing to the nature of the charges laid against her. Gao Yu is expected to appeal the conviction, according to an interview with her lawyer published in Deutsche Welle.
Recent reports also raise concerns for Gao Yu’s health. Gao Yu, who suffers from Menière’s Disease, has also suffered severe gastroenteritis while in prison. PEN is concerned that the medical care that she is receiving is inadequate.
Detained on 24 April 2014, she was formally arrested on 30 May, however, her detention was not officially confirmed until 8 May. Gao, aged 70, went missing on 23 April 2014, when she last made contact with Deutsche Welle, a German newspaper for which she is a special contributor. At the time of her disappearance she was writing a column titled “Party Nature vs. Human Nature”, which is said to focus on the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and its internal conflicts. The article was never submitted, and when Gao did not attend as scheduled a 26 April event in Beijing to commemorate the anti-government protests on 4 June 1989 which were brutally suppressed, friends reported her disappearance. Gao had also been due to travel to Hong Kong to speak at the annual awards ceremony of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), of which she is a member, on 3 May.
On 8 May 2014 officials confirmed that she was being held by Beijing police in a criminal investigation for allegedly ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ over a secret document leaked to editors of a foreign website in August 2013. According to Gao’s lawyer, the charges are based on a document known as “Document Number 9”, which Ms Gao had written about last year. The document is said to detail the government’s vision of pushing economic reforms while maintaining ideological controls concerning issues such as democracy, civil society and freedom of press.
The same day, Gao appeared in a televised ‘confession’ shown on China’s national broadcaster CCTV in an early morning news programme. The report blurred out her face but showed her full name, ending speculation over her whereabouts two weeks after she disappeared. Gao said ‘I admit that what I’ve done touched on legal issues and threatened national interests.’ She said she was ‘deeply remorseful’ of her actions and ‘willing to accept legal punishment’. Gao Yu later clarified that this ‘confession’ had been extracted under duress after police threatened to arrest her son. The right to a fair trial, as enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights includes the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess guilt.
According to her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, in the interview with Deutsche Welle, the court took into consideration Gao’s ‘confession’ during their deliberation, in contravention of Chinese law that dictates that evidence obtained under duress must be thrown out and must not be considered when passing a verdict. Furthermore, her sentence comes despite evidence submitted to court which asserted that the supposed recipient of Document 9, He Pin of Mirror Publishing, had not received the document from Gao Yu.
Gao Yu was formerly the chief editor of Economics Weekly before being barred from publishing. She was first arrested on 3 June 1989 for an article she wrote for a Hong Kong newspaper supporting student protesters in Tiananmen Square, and was imprisoned for over a year. She spent a further five and a half years in prison from 1993-99 for ‘providing state secrets to parties outside [China’s] borders’ in a series of political and economic articles in Hong Kong-based publications. Gao is known for her fiercely critical political analysis and knowledge of the inner circles of the Chinese Communist Party.
She has continued to work in China as a freelance journalist in spite of considerable restriction and pressure. Gao Yu contributed an essay to PEN’s 2013 report Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China. She is an honorary director of ICPC and an honorary member of Czech PEN, Danish PEN and Swedish PEN. Her case was used as an emblematic case during PEN’s campaigning for International Women’s Day 2015 and the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2014.
As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, China is obliged to ‘refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.’