CHINA: Concerns for health of veteran journalist Gao Yu (f)

RAPID ACTION NETWORK3 August 2015Update #2 to RAN 09/14

PEN International fears for the deteriorating health of veteran journalist Gao Yu, who is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ handed down by the Beijing Third Intermediate People’s Court on 17 April 2015. Gao Yu has reportedly been suffering from increased heart pain in recent weeks, requiring an increase in her medication. According to news reports, a recent medical examination indicates that Gao Yu, who has a long history of heart disease, shows signs of blockages to her arteries, as well as abnormalities in her lymph nodes. She is reported to have told her lawyer, “I don’t want to die here.” PEN urges the Chinese authorities to ensure that Gao Yu is afforded adequate medical care. PEN continues to condemn her conviction and sentence, and calls for her immediate and unconditional release.

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Send appeals to the Chinese authorities:

  • Condemning the conviction and seven-year sentence of journalist Gao Yu;
  • Calling for her conviction to be quashed and her immediate and unconditional release as she has been imprisoned for her legitimate professional activities;
  • Expressing serious concern for Gao Yu’s well-being and urging that she is provided with adequate medical treatment;
  • Expressing concern that she was shown ‘confessing’ on state television before being tried and that this evidence was used in her trial despite her allegation that this ‘confession’ was made under duress, in contravention of her right to a fair trial;
  • Reminding the Chinese authorities 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, China is 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

Copies to: Chinese Embassy in your country. 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 was convicted of ‘leaking state secrets abroad’ and sentenced to seven years in prison on 17 April 2015. During her trial, which began behind closed doors on 21 November 2014 only the prosecutors, Gao’s lawyers, the judges and court staff and a few court police were present owing to the nature of the charges laid against her. According to news reports, Gao Yu is currently awaiting the outcome of her appeal.

Recent reports also raise concerns for Gao Yu’s health. Gao Yu is reported to suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as Menière’s Disease – a condition of the inner ear. According to news reports, she was sent for a medical check due to the fact that she has been suffering from frequent heart pain. The medical examination, conducted in July, is reported to have found signs of blockages in her arteries as well as abnormal lymph nodes in her neck. It is not yet clear whether the abnormalities are benign. Her lawyers are expected to apply for bail given her current condition.

Detained on 24 April 2014, she was formally arrested on 30 May, however, her detention was not officially confirmed until 8 May. 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 anti-government protests on 4 June 1989 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 Centre (ICPC), of which she is a member, on 3 May.

On 8 May 2014 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 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.

The same day, 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’. Gao Yu later clarified that this ‘confession’ had been extracted under duress after police threatened to arrest her son. 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 oneself or to confess guilt.

According to her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, in the interview with Deutsche Welle, the court took into consideration Gao’s ‘confession’ during their deliberation, in contravention of Chinese law that dictates that evidence obtained under duress must be thrown out and must not be considered when passing a verdict. Furthermore, her sentence comes despite evidence submitted to court which asserted that the supposed recipient of Document 9, He Pin of Mirror Publishing, had not received the document from Gao Yu.

Gao Yu is currently awaiting the outcome of her appeal, which was expected in July, but was reportedly delayed for two months for unknown reasons. Reports suggest that the Chinese authorities asked her to dismiss her lawyers, however she refused. The authorities are also said to have been attempting to persuade Gao Yu to plead guilty on a lesser charge, which she has also refused.

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 was 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, Danish PEN and Swedish PEN. Her case was used as an emblematic case during PEN’s campaigning for International Women’s Day 2015 and the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2014. Gao Yu’s case was also highlighted as PEN’s Empty Chair during the Writers in Prison Committee Conference held in Amsterdam in May 2015 during which members wrote messages of solidarity on post cards and sent them to her in prison.

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, China is obliged to ‘refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.’