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Gao Yu gets five years

November 26, 2015

A Beijing court reduced jailed veteran journalist Gao Yu's prison sentence from seven to five years. Deutsche Welle and international civic groups have long called for the release of the ailing 71-year-old.

Gao Yu
Image: imago/Kyodo News

The outcome of Gao's rare appeal, which was held in Beijing on Tuesday but closed to foreign diplomats and journalists, was issued Thursday by a Chinese appeals court.

Her lawyers had argued during trial proceedings last November that a confession she later renounced was obtained under duress. One of her attorneys, Mo Shaping, told DW after the sentencing that the reduction was "a better result from the point-of-view of the defense."

He said he was not able to speak to Gao but that his team was working on getting her released for medical treatment. "It's looking pretty good," he added. Gao suffers from heart problems and allergies.

Gao, who wrote hard-hitting reports of elite politics in China and worked for Deutsche Welle (DW) as a freelancer, was detained in April 2014 and jailed in April 2015 for seven years for allegedly leaking state secrets.

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The trial court jailed Gao on an accusation of leaking a Communist Party directive that had warned of the "dangers" of multiparty democracy to a Hong Kong media outlet.

Her jailing subsequently prompted a call from the US government that she be released immediately and a EU demand that China "review" her trial. Fifteen international human rights and press freedom groups called for her immediate release.

DW 'very disappointed'

On Thursday, Deutsche Welle Director General Peter Limbourg called the verdict a "shame."

"We're very disappointed about the verdict against Gao Yu," Limbourg said in a video statement. "We would've hoped that the court would have released her."

The DW director has previously urged Chinese authorities to respect the rights of other regime-critical journalists and bloggers in China.

In recent years, China's President Xi Jinping has overseen a crackdown on dissent which has also seen hundreds of lawyers, activists and academics detained and dozens jailed.

The France-based Reporters Without Borders ranked China as 176th out of 180 countries in its 2015 Press Freedoms Index.

Gao is a former winner of UNESCO's World Press Freedom Prize.

ipj/sms (dpa, AFP)