A Chinese court sentenced a 71-year-old journalist to seven years in prison Friday on what her supporters say are trumped-up charges that she’d disclosed state secrets to a U.S.-based Chinese-language news outlet.
Gao Yu, a journalist who’s long been a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party, has said she’ll appeal the verdict, according to her lawyer, Mo Shaoping. He confirmed that the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court had sentenced his client to seven years.
Rights groups and media organizations characterized Gao’s trial as a mockery of justice and a reflection of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to quash voices even mildly critical of the party.
“Naked political suppression dressed in legal proceedings,” Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director for Amnesty International, said on Twitter after the sentence was reported.
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The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong said it had “grave concern” about incarcerating an older woman in frail health.
“The treatment of Gao, who has already been detained for almost a year, is the latest indication of a worsening environment for reporters working in the country,” the club said in a statement. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists – all Chinese citizens – were behind bars in China at the end of last year, more than any other country.
Police arrested Gao last year on accusations of disclosing state secrets, apparently in relation to a Communist Party directive that had made its way to several websites outside China in 2013. The directive, “Document No. 9,” laid out China’s plans to prevent liberal political ideas from undermining the party’s continued rule. Gao was accused of providing documents to the U.S.-based Mirror Media Group, a claim that Mirror has rejected.
According to lawyer Mo, Mirror Media CEO Ho Pin provided a statement to the court that his company had obtained a copy of Document No. 9 from a party official, not from Gao.
“That statement would have been very beneficial to Gao Yu’s case, but the court refused to accept it,” Mo said in a telephone interview with McClatchy. “It was wrong for the court not to accept it, but that is what the court did.”
Gao started working for Chinese state media in the 1980s, and she had her first run-in with the party while serving as vice editor of Economics Weekly. The government shut down that paper for its support of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Because of her writings about the protests, Gao was imprisoned from June 1989 to August 1990. She was imprisoned again from 1993 to 1999, accused of leaking state secrets following articles she’d published in Hong Kong’s Mirror Monthly magazine.
Despite those jailings, Gao continued to write critically of the party up until her most recent arrest. In 2013, she published commentaries rebutting hopes that Xi, then in line to be president, would be a reformer.
Gao is said to be visibly thinner after months of detention, and she already had heart and blood pressure problems, according to Mo.
Under Chinese law, people accused of revealing state secrets law can be tried in closed court and can face life sentences if convicted. There was no official announcement of Gao’s sentence Friday, leaving it to be reported by her lawyer and family members.
McClatchy attempted to get comment from the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court but was unsuccessful as of late Friday.
McClatchy special correspondent Tiantian Zhang contributed to this report.