China: Veteran journalist Gao Yu (f) charged with ‘leaking state secrets abroad’; fears for safety

Veteran journalist Gao Yu went missing on 24 April 2014 and there was no information concerning her fate until 8 May 2014 when the official Chinese news agency Xinhua confirmed that Gao Yu is being detained by Beijing police on the charge of ‘leaking state secrets abroad’. She is accused of leaking a secret document to editors of a foreign website in August 2013. Footage of her ‘confessing’, feared to have been taken under duress, was shown on state television. Her whereabouts remain unknown, and there are serious concerns for her well-being and integrity.

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Send appeals to the Chinese authorities:

  • Expressing serious concern for the arrest and well-being of veteran journalist Gao Yu, and urging that she is protected from ill-treatment and granted access to family and a lawyer of her choice;
  • calling for her immediate and unconditional release if, as feared, she is being persecuted for her legitimate professional activities;
  • expressing concern that she has been shown ‘confessing’ on state television, in contravention of her right to a fair trial;
  • Protesting the renewed crackdown on government critics in recent months, and reminding the Chinese authorities that Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of speech and that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, they are obliged to “refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose”.

Send appeals to:

His Excellency Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025
Salutation: Your Excellency

Fu Zhenghua
Director, Beijing Public Security Bureau
Beijingshi Gong’anju
9 Dongdajie, Qianmen, Dongchengqu,
Beijing 100740, P.R. China
Fax: +86 10 65242927
Telephone: +86 10 8522 5050 (Chinese only)
Salutation: Dear Director

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Contact details of the Chinese embassy in your country may be found here: Chinese embassies abroad


According to PEN International’s information, Beijing-based veteran dissident journalist Gao Yu has been detained since 24 April 2014, although her whereabouts were not known until 8 May when officials confirmed that she was being held by Beijing police in a criminal investigation for allegedly ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ over a secret document leaked to editors of a foreign website in August 2013. According to Gao’s lawyer, the charges are believed to be based on a document known as“Document Number 9″, which Ms Gao had written about last year. The document is said to detail the government’s vision of pushing economic reforms while maintaining ideological controls concerning issues such as democracy, civil society and freedom of press.

Gao, aged 70, went missing on 23 April 2014, when she last made contact with Deutsche Welle, a German newspaper for which she is a special contributor. At the time of her disappearance she was writing a column titled “Party Nature vs. Human Nature”, which is said to focus on the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and its internal conflicts. The article was never submitted, and when Gao did not attend as scheduled a 26 April event in Beijing to commemorate the 4 June 1989 anti-government protests which were brutally suppressed, friends reported her disappearance. Gao had also been due to travel to Hong Kong to speak at the annual awards ceremony of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), of whom she is a member, on 3 May.

On 8 May 2014 Gao appeared in a televised ‘confession’ shown on China’s national broadcaster CCTV in an early morning news programme. The report blurred out her face but showed her full name, ending speculation over her whereabouts two weeks after she disappeared. Gao said ‘I admit that what I’ve done touched on legal issues and threatened national interests.’ She said she was ‘deeply remorseful’ of her actions and ‘willing to accept legal punishment’. The ‘confession’ is feared to have been extracted under duress, heightening concerns for her well-being and chance of a fair trial.

The right to a fair trial, as enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights includes the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.

Gao Yu was formerly the chief editor of Economics Weekly before being barred from publishing. She was first arrested on 3 June 1989 for an article she wrote for a Hong Kong newspaper supporting student protesters in Tiananmen Square, and imprisoned for over a year. She spent a further five and a half years in prison from 1993-99 for ‘providing state secrets to parties outside [China’s] borders’ in a series of political and economic articles in Hong Kong-based publications. Gao is known for her fiercely critical political analysis and knowledge of the inner circles of the Chinese Communist Party.

She has continued to work in China as a freelance journalist in spite of considerable restriction and pressure. Gao Yu contributed an essay to PEN’s 2013 report “Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China.” She is an honorary director of ICPC and an honorary member of Czech PEN.

Gao’s arrest comes in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on the 4th June 1989 democracy movement, amid an apparent renewed crackdown on dissent.

Between 4 – 5 May 2014, five dissident writers – including two ICPC members – were detained on suspicion of causing a disturbance after they attended a 3 May gathering to commemorate the upcoming 25th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on 4th June 1989 pro-democracy protests. On 7 May 2014, Hong-Kong-based publisher Yao Wentian was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on charges which are believed to be politically motivated.