Qiao Long | Radio Free Asia
A lawyer acting for detained veteran political journalist Gao Yu has cited growing concerns over her health after visiting her in a Beijing detention center earlier this week.
Gao, 70, suffers from high blood pressure, heart disease and Meniere’s syndrome, an inner ear disorder that can affect hearing and balance, and isn’t well enough to be held for prolonged periods in detention, her lawyer Shang Baojun told RFA.
Gao stood trial in Beijing last November for “leaking state secrets overseas,” charges she has denied in court, arguing that a televised “confession” she gave was obtained under duress.
She has yet to be sentenced, and remains in “coercive measures,” Shang said.
“The law is very clear, that if the court is unable to reach a verdict, the coercive measures need to be adjusted,” he said. “She has written to the court requesting a change in the coercive measures.”
Shang said Gao had been hospitalized following his last meeting with her on Feb. 12 with a gastrointestinal disease.
“She had vomiting and diarrhea as a result of unsanitary food, and was taken to hospital,” Shang said. “She was on a drip for three days.”
“The inflammation in her digestive system still hasn’t gone away, which has caused her great suffering.”
Evidence was inadmissible
Gao, a veteran journalist and acerbic political commentator, was charged with “leaking state secrets overseas” after being detained in secret on April 24, and formally arrested on May 30.
She later appeared on the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s state television channel CCTV, where she was shown, her face blurred on screen, apparently confessing to having obtained a highly confidential document and sending it to an overseas website.
But her defense team argued that much of the evidence submitted by the prosecution was inadmissible.
“She believes that, regardless of how this case turns out, she will continue to maintain her innocence,” Shang said. “That’s why we are arguing that…she should be released if they can’t and stick to the law and come to a decision within the legal time limit.”
But Shang said Gao had been in relatively good spirits during their meeting on Tuesday.
“She sends her best wishes to friends in China and overseas, including Bao Tong [former aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang] and [founder of the victims’ group Tiananmen Mothers] Ding Zilin,” Shang said.
“She also sent special greetings to [jailed rights attorney] Pu Zhiqiang, and he sent them to Gao Yu as well.”
“She said she would take good care of her health and hopes to live for a long time yet,” Shang said.
A close friend of Gao’s who asked to remain anonymous said Gao’s illness has lasted more than 10 days, prompting growing concerns among her friends and family.
“This all takes its toll on a person of 70,” the friend said. “The conditions in there are pretty dodgy, and we don’t know if the food is safe to eat.”
The friend hit out at the authorities for failing to deal with Gao’s case “strictly according to due legal process.”
“They really didn’t pay much attention to due process at the start of this case, but since the fourth party plenum [and its focus on the rule of law], they are taking it more seriously.”
Tiananmen Square protests
Gao’s arrest came as authorities rounded up dozens of rights activists and dissidents for questioning ahead of the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Gao played an active part during the Tiananmen Square protests, and was detained on June 3, 1989, as China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) moved tanks and troops into the heart of Beijing, putting an end to weeks of protests for greater democracy and rule of law.
She was released after 450 days but was then jailed again in November 1994 for “illegally providing state secrets to institutions outside China’s borders” in connection with four articles she wrote in the Hong Kong-based Mirror Monthly magazine.
China’s state secrets law covers a wide range of data from industrial information to death penalty statistics, and information can be designated a state secret retroactively.
Reporters, editors, and news anchors are explicitly barred from sharing “state secrets” in any form via any media, and must now sign nondisclosure agreements with their employers.
The sharing of information with foreign news outlets is also expressly forbidden under rules issued since Gao was detained.
But rights activists and journalists say the rules are based on a concept that is dangerously vague.
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