China has jailed a veteran journalist for leaking an internal Communist party document which urged the aggressive targeting of subversive ideological trends including support for western democratic ideals, media independence, civil society and the “universal values” of human rights.
Gao Yu, 71, has denied leaking state secrets abroad, and her lawyer said that she would appeal against her seven-year sentence. He said the prosecution lacked evidence and had based its case on her confession, which she said was made under pressure because her son was also in custody at the time.
US and EU officials, who were prevented from attending the Beijing trial, criticised the verdict outside court. Human rights campaigners described it as a travesty and “blatant political persecution”.
It comes as Beijing has imposed tighter curbs on mainstream and social media, and detained and convicted activists, lawyers and others.
He said the court excluded testimony from the founder of the Mirror Media Group – which first published the text, known as Document No 9 – denying that Gao sent it to him.
“We think there isn’t enough evidence to prove that Gao has leaked the document. There isn’t physical evidence and there is no witness. Ho Pin, who the prosecutor alleged to have received the document from Gao, has given written testimony that Gao didn’t send him the document.”
The Mirror Media Group has reiterated publicly that Gao did not leak the text to it. Gao’s statement of “deep remorse”, which she said she agreed to because she feared retaliations against her son, was broadcast on television without her knowledge.
Her brother Gao Wei told the Associated Press that the court appeared to ignore the defence and paid attention only to the prosecution. He said his sister appeared thinner and frailer than before her detention. “I’m very angry and concerned for her,” he said.
Gao, an independent journalist, is well-known for her outspoken political commentaries. She began her career at the state-run agency China News Service, but was jailed for more than a year for her reports on and support for the pro-democracy protests that began in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
She was jailed for another six years in the 1990s for “illegally providing state secrets abroad”, the same charge for which she has been convicted in this case.
Friday’s sentence came five months after she stood trial at the third intermediate people’s court, which confirmed the verdict on its microblog.
Charges of leaking state secrets can carry a life sentence, but prosecutors had recommended five to 10 years in Gao’s case.
The foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, told reporters at a regular news briefing that Gao’s case was handled according to the law.
“Citizens have always enjoyed all forms of rights accorded to them under the constitution … At the same time, citizens must strictly abide by their obligations under the constitution,” he said.
He urged other countries to respect China’s judicial sovereignty.
Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the EU delegation to China, told reporters near the court that the sentence heightened its concern over the situation of human rights defenders, including lawyers and journalists.
Dan Biers, the first secretary at the US embassy, said it was disappointed by the verdict.
Maya Wang, an Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Gao Yu’s sentence is a travesty of justice and yet another affront to free expression in China.
“The heavy sentence … reflects the worsening crackdown on civil society and its defenders since President Xi Jinping came to power. It is yet another unequivocal message to China’s remaining activists that the government does not tolerate dissent.”
William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said: “This deplorable sentence against Gao Yu is nothing more than blatant political persecution by the Chinese authorities. She 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.
“The document Gao Yu is accused of leaking can in no reasonable way be classified as a legitimate state secret. To the authorities’ immense embarrassment, Gao Yu laid bare the Communist party’s outright hostility to human rights, and for that she is being severely punished.