Plainclothes police raided the Beijing home of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu on Thursday, sending the 72-year-old heart patient to the hospital while roughing up and detaining her son and destroying her garden in what supporters said was a bid to intimidate her.
Gao was on the phone with Germany-based writer Su Yutong when suddenly Gao said more than 20 plainclothes police and workmen stormed into the garden of her home in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, Su told RFA’s Mandarin Service.
“More than 20 people came and there was a confrontation when Gao Yu tried to stop them, triggering her heart condition, for which she later went to the hospital to get treatment. Her son, Zhao Meng, was beaten and forcibly taken to the Heping Street police station and not released until the forced demolition was finished,” said Su.
“I want an explanation from the government for this kind of brutal law enforcement. What is they based on? How can you beat people, crush someone's hand and kidnap their kid?” an angry Gao later told RFA’s Cantonese Service.
“They pushed around a sick old lady, and if not for two workers holding me from behind and me holding the door tightly, I would have been thrown to the ground,” she added, referring to herself.
Zhao Meng, Gao’s son, told RFA that as soon as the forced demolition was finished, “they abducted me. Six or seven plainclothes police pushed me into a vehicle.”
He said he went to the hospital to have his bloodied right hand treated and to document his injuries to show police.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement sent the "chengguan," plainclothes law enforcers widely despised in China for their use of violence, to tear down what they said were an illegal garden and wall.
Gao had asked the men to show her the legal paper work for the demolition and was treated rudely by them, which caused her heart troubles, said Su.
“When Gao Yu, who has a heart condition, confronted the rude and arrogant attitude of the police while she was herself in an emotionally charged state, she nearly fainted,” Su told RFA.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the raid on Gao’s home, in a statement calling it the “latest example of the now frequent harassment of the families of journalists and bloggers critical of the Communist Party.”
“This act of aggression by the police, in plain clothes as usual, speaks volumes about the methods used by the Communist Party to intimidate Gao Yu, those close to her and Chinese civil society in general,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
Gao's seven-year jail term for "leaking state secrets overseas" was cut on appeal to five years by the Beijing High People's Court last November after she reportedly suffered multiple heart attacks in detention.
'Leaking state secrets'
She also suffers from high blood pressure and has signs of a growth on a lymph node that could be malignant, her lawyers said in her applications for medical parole before her release.
Gao has been permitted to serve a five-year jail term "outside jail," holds a valid German visa but has been denied permission by the Chinese authorities to seek medical treatment overseas.
Gao was initially sentenced to a seven-year jail term by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court in April 2015 for "leaking state secrets overseas,” but denied breaking Chinese law, saying that a televised "confession" on which the prosecution based its case was obtained under duress.
Gao had been held in the jail since her initial detention in April 2014, as she planned to mark the 26th anniversary of 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square that culminated in a military crackdown by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
During her November 2014 trial, Gao Yu was accused of leaking party policy Document No. 9 to a Hong Kong-based media outlet.
Document No. 9 lists "seven taboos" to be avoided in public debate, online and in China's schools and universities that include democracy, freedom of the press, judicial independence and criticism of the party's historical record.
Her defense team argued that the document was already widely available online.
Gao’s latest clash with abusive authorities comes amid a wave of repression of human rights lawyers, bloggers and activists that has seen the China-based families of prominent exiled writers harassed by local police.
RSF said media freedom “has declined sharply in the past year in China,” which in 2015 ranked a lowly 176th out 180 countries in the media watchdog’s annual press freedom index.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Wong Lok-to and Paul Eckert. Written in English by Paul Eckert.