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New York Times: China to Release Journalist Gao Yu From Prison Over Illness

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The New York Times
By Chris Buckley Nov. 26, 2015

■ Beijing — Gao Yu, a well-known Chinese journalist serving a prison sentence on charges of leaking a Communist Party document, will be released because of serious illness, a court in Beijing announced on Thursday, after another court had earlier in the day cut the length of her sentence.

In the morning, the Beijing high court reduced the sentence being served by Ms. Gao, who had been convicted of leaking a Communist Party document that laid out plans for a campaign against liberal Western ideas. The court took two years off the seven-year sentence handed down to Ms. Gao, 71, by a lower court in April, after her trial last November, said Mo Shaoping, one of her lawyers.

“The court upheld the guilty verdict, but amended the prison term to five years,” Mr. Mo said by telephone. “We will continue to request that Gao Yu be allowed to serve the rest of her sentence outside on medical grounds.”

Later in the day, another Beijing court appeared to grant that request, at least for now.

The Beijing Third Intermediate People’s Court said that it had concluded that “Gao Yu indeed suffers from serious illnesses,” and that for now she would be allowed to serve the rest of her sentence “outside prison,” said Xinhua, the official news agency.
Gao Yu in 2009.
Credit Filip Singer/European Pressphoto Agency

The vague wording of the report left it unclear whether Ms. Gao would be allowed to return to her home in Beijing or perhaps would be kept under watch somewhere else.

In an interview before the decision was announced, Mr. Mo said there were strong reasons for releasing her on medical grounds. Ms. Gao has high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.

The drastic developments for Ms. Gao came two days after a hearing at which her lawyers argued against the lower court’s verdict. Mr. Mo and another of her defense lawyers, Shang Baojun, declined to describe what they had said in court.

The Xinhua report said that at the hearing, Ms. Gao had “truthfully confessed to the facts of her crimes and expressed guilt and remorse,” and the Beijing high court had therefore reduced her sentence.

At her trial last year, Ms. Gao said that the charges against her — of illegally obtaining state secrets and passing them abroad — were unfounded and that her apparent confession to the allegations was made under duress. Ms. Gao later appealed her conviction and was granted a second hearing that produced the latest decision.

The Chinese authorities have not explicitly said what secret document Ms. Gao was accused of leaking. But details from the trial and from official statements left no doubt that it was a directive from the Communist Party leadership calling for officials to combat the influence of Western political ideas, such as civic society, electoral democracy and constitutionalism.

Since coming to power three years ago, President Xi Jinping has overseen an intense campaign against political dissent and liberal ideas. And the directive, widely referred to as Document No. 9, was cited and summarized on party websites long before Ms. Gao was charged.

Investigators claimed that she had given a secret document to the Mirror Media Group, a Chinese-language news company based in New York, which published a copy of Document No. 9 in August 2013. The New York Times also reported on the directive around the same time. The Mirror Media Group denied that Ms. Gao had given it the document.

Ms. Gao and her son, Zhao Meng, were detained by the police in Beijing in April 2014.

Ms. Gao’s current stretch in prison was her third on politically sensitive charges. She became a well-known figure before the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, when she was deputy editor in chief of Economics Weekly, a liberal journal.

She was detained by the authorities for nearly 15 months after the military crackdown on the 1989 protests.

In 1993, she was imprisoned again, on charges of leaking state secrets, because of articles she had written for Hong Kong publications. She was released in 1999 on medical parole.


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Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: r.ritchie@chinaaid.org
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