Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu (高瑜), 71, was sentenced today to seven years in jail by Beijing’s No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court. She is accused of “illegally providing state secrets beyond [China’s] borders,” a charge stemming, many believe, from the leak in 2013 of the so-called “Document No. 9,” in which the Chinese Communist Party restricted discussion of a range of issues it regards as sensitive, including constitutionalism, civil society and press freedom.

According to Gao Yu’s lawyers, prosecutors accused her of leaking an unspecified document to Hong Kong’s Mirror Monthly (明镜), which in 2013 did publish a document identified as “Document No. 9.”

The sentencing of Gao, who began working as a reporter for the official China News Service in 1979, comes almost six months after her closed-door trial in November 2014. Shortly after her disappearance on April 24, 2014 — along with her son — video of Gao making an apparent confession appeared on state-run television in China. Gao has since maintained her innocence, saying the confession was made under extreme duress.


[ABOVE: Journalist Gao Yu is accused of leaking state secrets during a newscast on China Central Television, and appears to confess on camera.]

In it’s “Explaining the News” (要问解说) column yesterday, RFI Chinese ran an interview with one of Gao Yu’s defense lawyers, Shang Baojun (尚宝军), in which he explained the case and Gao’s present condition in custody.

A translation of the RFI interview follows:

Explaining the News: On November 21 last year, the Gao Yu case in the No. 3 Intermediate Court was not heard in public, and Gao Yu denied the related accusations [against her]. After that, two postponements of sentencing were granted. As her lawyer, have you been able to see her recently?

Shang Baojun: I see Gao Yu just about once a month, so I’ll first touch on the issue of her health and well-being. Gao Yu is already 71 years old, and she has many of the ailments that come with old age, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and Ménière’s disease, and she often falls ill. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ménière’s_disease]. In the time shortly after she was arrested in April, the interrogations were frequent and went on for extended periods of time. There were scores of interrogations over a period of less and two months, and she was basically subjected to about 10 hours of questioning every day, sometimes even for longer. The pressure was intense at that time. In the half year since the trial [in November 2014] she has managed only to maintain a state of equilibrium. The detention center provides her with blood pressure and heart disease medication, and her Ménière’s is basically under control. She says that her physical situation is quite worrying — after all, she is quite elderly.

Explaining the News: And what about Gao Yu’s case? One reason Gao Yu’s case has drawn attention is because after she was taken into criminal custody by police, Gao Yu appeared on May 8 on a news program on China Central Television, her face beaten black and blue, and admitted her errors and issue a confession. Although, Gao Yu later said that she had been pressure to save her son and made a confession of guilt against her will. She also denied any criminal wrongdoing. Has there been any change to her attitude?

Shang Baojun: No, there has been no change. Concerning her appearance on CCTV, Gao Yu had no idea about it at all. The so-called recording should be that made by investigators during her interrogation. No one told her at the time that this would be broadcast on China Central Television. When Gao Yu later learned about this, it was only because we informed her, and she was extremely shocked. She had been arrested together with her son, and the police investigators told her that she must cooperate, otherwise those closest to her would come to trouble or suffer unfortunate consequences. It was only after being threatened and intimidated that Gao Yu made the so-called confession.

Actually, her situation is quite simple, just one thing. They say that in June-July 2013, Gao Yu provided a document to He Pin (何频), the chief editor of Hong Kong’s Mirror Monthly (明镜). This is that issue. Very simple and very specific. At the time, Gao Yu admitted to these accusations because she had no choice. But she has since consistently denied them. The last time I saw her should have been sometime around mid-March. I imagine nothing has changed since that time.

Explaining the News: The crime she has been accused of is “illegally providing state secrets beyond [China’s] borders,” but can you really regard the Chinese Communist Party’s internal documents concerning ideology as “state secrets”?

Shang Baojun: This is something we’ve debated before. Investigative organs determined through the Beijing Municipal Office for the Protection of State Secrets (北京市保密局) that the document in question was a state document of a confidential nature (机密级). Of course, we don’t agree with this conclusion. And we’ve appealed for a new determination higher up from the PRC’s National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets, including on the question of whether [the document] can be construed as a “state secret” — and then further what, if any, level of “state secret.” China has three levels of secrecy: top secret (绝密级), confidential (机密级) and secret (秘密级). If any of these are leaked, there are subject to different sentences.

Regardless of what the determination is, we do not believe that a document from the Chinese Communist Party providing guidance on propaganda and ideology, or direction on the main theme (主旋律) can be construed as a “state secret.”