IFJ strongly condemns sentencing of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the sentencing today, April 17, of independent Chinese journalist, Gao Yu on charges of leaking state secrets. The IFJ criticised the Chinese government for its ongoing attempts to intimidate and stifle media freedoms through the targeting of high-profile journalists such as Gao Yu and has called for a global media appeal to draw international attention to the case.

Veteran journalist Gao Yu. Mike Clarke, AFP

Veteran journalist Gao Yu. Mike Clarke, AFP

Gao Yu, 71, was arrested in Beijing on April 24, 2014, on charges of illegally obtaining state secrets and sharing them with foreign media. It understood that the leaked document outlined the leadership’s plans to aggressively curb civil society and press freedom. Gao was subsequently charged and held in detention until her trial in November, 2014. The closed-door trial lasted four hours, during which the prosecution relied on a recorded confession by Gao which, as she disclosed during her trial, was obtained when police threatened the arrest her son. During the trial, Gao pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge. Her sentencing was delayed on two occasions, however today the verdict came down sentencing her to seven years imprisonment.

The so-called ‘state secret’ that Gao allegedly shared has not been disclosed by the Chinese authorities, but it has been reported that the document was the Central Committee’s Document No 9, which warns against seven perils, including a free press. Gao’s lawyer has argued against the definition of “state secret” as the alleged document was a Communist Party document, not one of the state, and one that was already shared in several provinces so was, in effect, in the public arena. Nevertheless, as the case involved a claimed “state secret”, the media was prevented from accessing the proceedings and access to Gao’s family during the trial was also denied.

Gao Yu is a world-renowned and celebrated veteran journalist who has been imprisoned twice during a career spanning over three decades. On June 3, 1989, Gao Yu was among a large number of intellectuals jailed during the crackdown on protesters at Tiananmen Square. Labelled a public enemy by the Beijing mayor, she served 15 months in prison on the accusation that an article she authored, ‘Political program for turmoil and rebellion’, promoted ‘bourgeois liberalisation’. She was released in 1990 on medical parole.

In 1993, Gao was again arrested on accusations of leaking a state secret, which related to a speech of former Premier Jiang Zemin. Gao denied the accusations but was sentenced to six years imprisonment. She was released early in 1999 due to poor health.

In recent times, Gao has continued her work as a journalist, writing commentaries and articles on politics, the economy and social trends for Hong Kong and international media. In 1995, while still in jail, Gao was honoured with the Golden Pen for Freedom and Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation and in 1997 she was the first person awarded the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize by UNESCO. Gao has also recieved a number of other accolades for her journalism work.

The IFJ said: “The guilty verdict against Gao is an outrageous attack on the media and the public’s right to know. The handing down of the maximum sentence of seven years is an appalling response by a government that is intent on controlling the media and civil society and is clearly trying to send a message to the media and independent journalists that if they don’t toe the party line they will suffer the consequences – regardless of the constitutional commitments to freedom of expression. ”

“We strongly believe Gao was exercising her duty as a journalist to report on issues of great public concern and this verdict should be strongly condemned by the international community.”

The IFJ urges President Xi Jinping and to uphold Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, which enshrines the people’s right to freedom of expression and the principle of the rule of law. It also calls on President Xi and Premier Li to remind Supreme Court judges that all trails should be fair and just, including sentencing.

China’s press freedom is on a steady decline and 2014 reflects a year when China became the world’s biggest jailer of journalists as well as the sharp increase in attacks on journalists. The IFJ strongly urges authorities to release Gao on parole due to her suffering from various illness and supports Gao’s appeal against the case.

The IFJ said: “We call on all colleagues in the media industry globally to speak up for Gao’s unfair prosecution and demand her unconditional release.”