Update: Chinese Journalist Jailed For 7 Years

Gao Yu, one of China’s most prominent dissident journalists, has been formally sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets. She was tried in November after having been detained since last April.

Gao, whose 36-year career began as a reporter for the China News Service, has been arrested repeatedly. She was branded a “people’s enemy” in 1988 by the mayor of Beijing. The 71-year-old journalist spent 15 months in prison after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests before being released for health problems.

She has been honored repeatedly by human rights organizations, receiving the Golden Pen of Freedom in 1995 as well as Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation. In March 1999, she became the first journalist to receive the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. In 2000 she was named one of International Press Institute's 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the 20th century.

“In China’s current anti-media climate, where the mainstream press is facing an increasingly stifling working environment through arrests, harassment and media directives since president Xi Jinping came to power, it is hard to believe there will be a positive outcome [in the current case]” said Bob Deitz, Asia Program Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Xi’s crackdown has extended well beyond just the conventional press. Since April 2014, at least 91 writers, activists and lawyers have been arrested or forced to travel away from Beijing as part of a “communications lockdown” to prevent activism ahead of the June 4 anniversary, according to Human Rights Watch. “Xi’s administration is stricter all across the board on speech,” according to HRW. “They specifically declare, ‘we have to clean up the Internet.’”

It has been a year since Gao was jailed, a few weeks ahead of the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, and accused of leaking state secrets to the Chinese-language site of the German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. The document in question was issued by the Chinese Communist Party and known as “Document Number 9,” which warned senior members against “seven perils,” including the “universal values” of human rights.

Gao confessed to having made a “big mistake” in stealing a party document, but later recanted, saying she had only confessed because authorities had seized her son and that she was trading for his release.

“Between her last prison term and her current detention, Gao remained active in writing political commentaries, and is most recently known for her hard-hitting analytical pieces criticizing President Xi Jinping early in his tenure,” according to Human Rights Watch, which called for her freedom.

Gao is one of 44 journalists in jail as of Dec. 1, 2014, Deitz said. The figure marks the highest tally of journalists jailed there since CPJ began keeping records in 1990.

After being released from imprisonment after the charges stemming from the Tiananmen massacre, Gao was arrested in October of 1993 and in November 1994 was sentenced to six years in prison, once more accused of having "published state secrets." In February 1999, she was given parole because of poor health.

“If Gao’s rigorous, critical reporting about vital government policies constitutes a threat to the state, it’s hard to see her prosecution as anything other than the latest effort by the Chinese leadership to silence virtually all debate,” said Maya Wang, an official with Human Rights Watch. “No ‘China dream’ can be realized until peaceful criticism is respected. Dropping the charges against Gao immediately would be one step down that path.”

The 2014 detention of the outspoken 70-year-old journalist was just one of several arrests of government in 2014 ahead of the politically sensitive June 4 anniversary.