Crusading reporter poses challenge to China's authorities

Tamara Gil   |  Beijing


Under strong security and far from the media spotlight, reporter Gao Yu went on trial Friday on charges of revealing “state secrets”, in what is seen by many as an attempt to silence a professional journalist who is too knowledgeable about the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party for her own good.

Through a foreign website, the 70-year-old journalist denied having passed on state secrets, as charged by the public prosecutor's office at the Intermediate Poeple's Court in Beijing.

"Gao was in a good mental state and the court respected her right to speak," her lawyer Shang Baojun told EFE news agency over the telephone, after the end of the trial which was held behind closed doors and without the presence of any of her family members or friends.

Gao's younger brother Gao Wei and her son Zhao Meng were forced by the authorities to travel to Heibei province so they could not be present at the trial, the well-known activist Hu Jia told Efe.

The authorities also prevented foreign media from covering the trial, a practice that has become routine in cases of this nature.

Hu said Gao is being punished for criticising the government, especially President Xi Jinping, who she thinks is similar to Mao Zedong, as both are characterised by their alignment with regressive ideologies and by having a violent and dictatorial character.

While working as a freelance contributor and political commentator for Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Gao was taken into custody in April shortly before she was to have taken part in a symposium on the Tienanmen massacre that ended the late 1990s pro-democracy movement.

Police detained Gao for "illegally obtaining" a secret document issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and providing it to a foreign-based website that published and circulated it widely.

Though at first Gao denied the charges, she admitted to them at a subsequent cross examination that was recorded and broadcast over the state television network CCTV. She later retracted that confession, saying it was made under coercion and with the threat of implicating her son.

The document she is accused of revealing is widely believed to be Document No. 9, which called on Communist Party members to remain vigilant against the dangers of "Western democracy", such as freedom of the press, according to lawyer Teng Biao.

This is not the first time Gao is facing trial for her political comments, as in the 1980s she was imprisoned for 15 months for lending support to pro-democracy protests.

In 1993, she was sentenced for six years on the same charges that she now faces. Human rights organisations have called for her release as they consider the case against her to be an attack on freedom of expression.

Gao suffers from heart problems and hypertension and could face life imprisonment if found guilty, though experts believe that the actual sentence will likely range between 5 and 15 years. --IANS/EFE