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Lawyer: 'Gao Yu should be released from custody'

The trial of Chinese journalist Gao Yu has been further delayed. In DW interview, Gao's lawyer Shang Baojun talks about the health of his client and the defense strategy he is pursuing to obtain her release.

DW: How is Gao Yu's mental and physical condition these days?

Shang Baojun: She is in a relatively good mental condition. Gao told me that she has accepted the fact that the court will not speed up the case. But she is sick - she is suffering from high blood pressure, heart problems and other conditions. She is 70 years old. She should be released from custody on humanitarian grounds. If the court cannot pass a verdict in her case, it should consider changing the nature of her imprisonment.

You recently visited Gao Yu in jail. What was the meeting about?

The most important information that I can provide is that the Supreme Court of the People's Republic of China has approved the extension of the trial proceedings for a further three months. Prior to that, an intermediate court in Beijing had made this request. Gao's lawyers were informed by the court about it on March 20. The main purpose of our visit to her was to inform Gao about it.

Did the court not inform her?

According to Gao, no.

How is the extension of criminal proceedings regulated, according to Chinese law?

First, the trial court must complete its proceedings within two months, and then a one-month extension is allowed. The provincial high court may prolong the proceedings by another three months. Thereafter, the Supreme Court comes into play. But that happens rarely.

The case against Gao began on September 22, 2014. Six months after the trial began, the case went to the Supreme Court which gave permission to prolong the trial yet again.

Does this mean that a verdict should be issued by June 22?

No, the Supreme Court can theoretically prolong the trial for an additional three months as often as it sees fit.

What is your current defense strategy?

According to Chinese law, the accused can be released, or its nature of imprisonment can be changed, if the courts are not able to reach a judgment within a specified period. In our opinion, this is now the case in Gao Yu's trial. She should be released from custody. That's what we are trying to achieve now and applied for this in court last week.

Gao Yu is one of the most intrepid journalists in China. She is renowned for not mincing words when criticizing the Chinese leadership. She wrote numerous commentaries and reports for DW's Chinese program.The seventy-year old has already been incarcerated twice for her criticism of China's political system. Her third time in prison began on April 24, 2014. According to Chinese state media, Gao is supposed to have passed a "highly confidential document" to a "contact outside the country." It remains unclear exactly which document Gao allegedly handed over to a foreign contact.