The arrest of well-known Chinese journalist and DW contributor Gao Yu has sparked widespread international criticism. DW Director General Peter Limbourg has expressed concern and demands Gao receive a fair trial.
Gao Yu, who had been missing since the end of April, is in fact in police custody. Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that the 70-year-old had been taken into custody for leaking "state secrets" – she allegedly forwarded a Communist Party document to a foreign website. Xinhua did not specify which secrets or which paper in particular had been passed on, but said that the police had seized "substantial" evidence from her home.
On May 8, Gao was paraded on state TV where she admitted her "wrongdoing:" "I believe what I have done has touched on legal issues and has endangered the country's interests. What I have done was a big mistake. I earnestly and sincerely have learned a lesson from this experience and admit my guilt," Gao told a remote audience, according to AFP news agency.
DW Director General Peter Limbourg has voiced criticism over Gao's arrest, saying it was "beneath human dignity" to parade her as a confessed criminal on Chinese national television. "Gao Yu has the right to a fair trial which complies with the rule of law," Limbourg said, adding that he had grave concerns over the fate of the 70-year-old who has worked many years for DW's Chinese service.
Limbourg expressed his concerns to the Chinese embassy in Berlin a few days ago, asking them to explain Gao Yu's sudden disappearance.
"Deutsche Welle builds bridges of understanding, and wants more dialogue with China," Limbourg said. "That includes giving critical authors a voice, even if they are not able to publish in China." He said it must be possible to conduct a dialogue in an open and respectful manner, despite differences of opinion.
A human rights issue
International human rights organizations have also criticized Chinese authorities regarding the treatment of the journalist. "Gao is the latest victim of China's vaguely worded and arbitrary state secret laws, which the authorities repeatedly use as a smokescreen to target activists," said Anu Kultalahti, China researcher at Amnesty International (AI), in a press release.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a similiar view. The rights organization said Chinese authorities should immediately drop allegations made this week against arrested lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, clarify the situation surrounding Gao Yu and release other activists who have been arrested ahead of June 4, the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. The Chinese government should also refrain from arresting or disappearing activists on or around this date.
"These charges and detentions lay bare just how little the Chinese government’s attitudes towards human rights have changed since 1989," said Sophie Richardson, HRW's China director. "A stable society is one in which peaceful discussions of history and accountability are tolerated – not crushed or criminalized."
Chinese authorities have yet to specify which document Gao Yu reportedly passed on to "foreign sources." Last year, Gao had written a report on an internal party communiqué referred to as Document 9 which - among other things - called for authorities to crack down on any divergence from party lines. A magazine in Hong Kong published her article in full length last August. AI's Anu Kultalahti, however, says the so-called Document 9 was in no way a state secret and argues that if Gao Yu was arrested for this reason, she must be released immediately.
Gao Yu is a former deputy editor-in-chief of Economics Weekly magazine and was named in the year 2000 one of the International Press Institute's 50 "World Press Freedom Heroes." In the 1990s Gao spent a total of seven years in prison for her work as a journalist. The charges against her included "publishing state secrets."