Beijing police are keeping the family of jailed veteran political journalist Gao Yu under close surveillance and tightening security in the Chinese capital, amid calls on social media for a sit-in to support
her on Tiananmen Square.
Gao was sentenced by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court on Friday to seven years' imprisonment for "leaking state secrets overseas," sparking an outcry among rights groups and fellow activists, who said there was no evidence that she broke Chinese law.
"The [state security police] knocked on my door ... and told me they were going to begin surveillance," Gao Yu's brother Gao Wei told RFA on Monday. "I said OK, and they said that if I went out anywhere they would be following me."
"I asked them the reason for the surveillance, and they said they didn't know, but ... I found out later from a friend that people were posting online to call for a silent gathering on Tiananmen Square to protest at Gao Yu's prison sentence."
"I heard it was black clothing and a white flower," he said, adding: "But I didn't see anybody."
Gao Wei, who is now being driven to outside appointments by his police surveillance detail, said similar measures were being applied to Gao's son Zhao Ming.
"Zhao Ming called and said he was in the same situation," Gao said.
Posts to Chinese social media sites referred to plans for a silent sit-in on Tiananmen Square at 2.00 p.m. local time, to call for Gao Yu's release.
Alert level raised
RFA was unable to verify whether the sit-in actually took place on the Square, which is closely patrolled by regular police, security guards and plainclothes state security police to prevent spontaneous protests and gatherings, especially at this time of year.
"This activity was first mentioned on a U.S. website, and is regarded by the Chinese Communist Party, the political and legal affairs committee, especially the state security police and the surveillance
regime, as a threat that has to be mitigated," Beijing-based activist Hu Jia, who has also been placed under house arrest, said on Monday.
"As soon as stuff like this starts appearing online, the authorities raise their alert level," he said. "I think that their putting me under house arrest this time around has something to do with these events."
Gao's detention came as she planned to mark the 26th anniversary of 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, which culminated in a military crackdown by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
The protests were sparked by a spontaneous outpouring of public mourning on Tiananmen Square following the April 22 state funeral of ousted former premimer Hu Yaobang, who was credited with overturning many of the injustices of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
During her trial, Gao Yu was accused of leaking ruling Chinese Communist Party policy Document No. 9 to a Hong Kong-based media outlet.
Document No. 9 lists "seven taboos" to be avoided in public debate, including online and in China's schools and universities, including democracy, freedom of the press, judicial independence and criticism of the party's historical record.
Gao Yu, 71, an outspoken political commentator who was named as one of the International Press Institute's 50 "world press heroes" in 2000, has repeatedly denied breaking Chinese law, saying that a televised "confession" on which the prosecution based its case was obtained under duress.
Gao Yu has vowed to appeal the verdict, and a visit from her lawyer is planned on Tuesday, Gao Wei said.
But he said her family won't be allowed to visit her until she is transferred from police-run detention center to prison, to serve the remainder of her sentence.
"We're not allowed to visit her in the detention center," Gao Wei said, adding: "I'm still pretty worried about her health."
Guangzhou-based former rights lawyer Liu Shihui, who signed a recent petition calling for Gao Yu's release, said the charges against her were clearly trumped up for political reasons.
"To judge from the court judgment, it's not clear at all that she was aware that this document was secret," Liu said. "If she is unaware that a document is secret, then it doesn't amount to a crime."
"She has to have done it on purpose [for this charge to stand up]," he said.
Liao Jia'an, a U.S.-based former college classmate of Gao Yu's, said she had long been aware of the political risks she ran with her cutting-edge reporting on Chinese politics, however.
"She gave her entire life to journalism, and to pursuing the freedom of the press," Liao said. "For many long years she has reported on China to the rest of the world from an objective viewpoint, and that has made a lot of people angry."
"In particular, her two years as a columnist for Deutsche Welle and some of her commentaries about Beijing, have made a lot of high-ranking leaders very unhappy indeed," Liao said.
"This is a major factor behind Gao Yu's heavy sentence ... but she knew the sort of risk she was running, and she did it anyway."
Reported by Qiao Long and C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.