Gao Yu, a Chinese news veteran and critic of the Communist Party, was sentenced by a Beijing court to seven years in prison on Friday on the charge of leaking state secrets to overseas media.
The 71-year-old was convicted by the Third Intermediate People’s Court for disclosing an internal Party directive to an overseas media group in 2013, according to her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, speaking to the foreign press corps.
Gao has denied the charges, which could have carried a life sentence. “We will definitely appeal,” said Shang Baojun, another of Gao’s lawyers, according to the Associated Press.
While Gao was seen on state television seemingly confessing to the charge of leaking a secret document after she was arrested last year, Gao claims in her trial that she made the statement out of fear of retaliation against her son, who had been detained by police.
Gao Wei, the journalist’s younger brother, said the court ignored the defense and listened only to the prosecution—this is common in Chinese courts, especially in politically sensitive cases, where the verdict is determined in advance by security authorities.
“I’m very angry and concerned for my sister,” Gao Wei told the Associated Press. He said that Gao looked thin and frail.
United States and European Union diplomats were barred from entering the court and had to stay outside. “We’re obviously disappointed with the verdict,” said U.S. Embassy First Secretary Dan Biers to the Associated Press.
Gao is an independent journalist who worked for many years in major Chinese media outlets. She has been jailed twice already—the first for about a year for participating in the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, and a six-year stint in 1993 for supposedly leaking state secrets.
The Party memo Gao is said to have leaked is known as “Document No. 9.” It calls for greater restrictions on the spread of Western democracy, universal values, civil society and press freedom. An abridged version was already circulating on government websites when Gao was arrested.
Ming Jing, a Chinese media organization that publishes in Hong Kong, whose founder, Ho Pin, lives in Long Island, denies having received the file from Gao. The prosecution, and the judgement, says that Gao sent Ming Jing editor Ho Pin an electronic copy of Document No. 9 using Skype.
Ming Jing traffics in internal Party rumors and political news, and its allegiances—whether to a particular faction in the Party, or to the cause of democracy and reform in China—are not always clear.
Several political commentators have denounced the court sentence as illegal.
“A political party’s internal documents cannot be regarded as a ‘state secret,'” wrote Zhang Xuezhong, a former law professor, in the Chinese blog New Century Net. “Clearly, the Party is conflating itself with China, or placing itself above the country, which is wrong.”