It apparently took the Chinese Communist government a while to decide how to handle Gao Yu, a 71-year-old journalist prosecuted on what her supporters describe as trumped-up charges for “leaking state secrets.” After five months of deliberation, a court sentenced her to seven years in prison on Friday.
As the New York Times explains, the only surprising aspect of this outcome was the length of time it took the court to settle on a sentence, as government prosecutions in China almost always end in guilty verdicts. Gao has said she will appeal the decision, but her odds probably are not good, as her imprisonment is seen as “the latest display of the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to stifle dissent and consolidate the power of President Xi Jinping.” A crackdown on troublesome lawyers, journalists, and activists has been in progress for over a year.
Gao’s odds of surviving her sentence are also questionable, as she is said to suffer from “high blood pressure and a heart condition requiring medication, as well as other ailments.” She appears to have lost a good deal of weight while in detention, awaiting her sentence.
She has been arrested before, beginning with the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, which the government accused her of helping to foment. She has been playing with fire for years by writing outspoken criticism of China’s overlords for Hong Kong and European publications. Her current offense involves “disclosing a Communist Party directive that had already been widely summarized on government websites” and allegedly passing the document along to a U.S.-based news outlet, which did publish the directive, but denies receiving it from her. Not that their denial counted for much at the trial, because their testimony was conveniently excluded.
Gao’s lawyers argued there was no proof she knew it was a “secret” document, and no proof that she copied it or gave it to anyone else. She denies the charges, although she claims she was forced into making a videotaped confession with threats against her son. Her prosecution has been denounced by the United States, the European Union, and human-rights groups.
Ironically, the subject of the document that got Gao arrested was the Communist Party’s plan for “an offensive against liberal political ideas and values.” The UK Guardian further elaborates that the plan aggressively targeted “subversive ideological trends including support for western democratic ideals, media independence, civil society and the ‘universal values’ of human rights.”