Authorities in the Chinese capital on Thursday reduced the jail term of jailed veteran journalist Gao Yu on appeal and ordered her conditional release on medical grounds.
Amid tight security on the streets outside, the Beijing High People's Court cut Gao's seven-year jail term for "leaking state secrets overseas" to five years, her lawyer Mo Shaoping told RFA.
"Today's appeal hearing was open, and the judge just read out the judgment, and then it was all over," Mo said after the appeal hearing. "Gao Yu didn't get chance to speak, and neither did her lawyers."
"Her son Zhao Ming attended the hearing."
Soon afterwards, an earlier application for medical parole to the court of first instance, the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court, was granted, and Gao, 71, was released from police detention, he said.
"Of course it's a good thing that she is able to leave the detention center and to return to her home," Mo said. "But I think she will need to seek medical treatment before she can go home."
"Her relatives have already gone to the detention center to process her departure."
But he said Gao's release isn't unconditional.
"Medical parole in this case means that she will serve the rest of her sentence outside prison," he said.
Mo said the defense team had argued in written submissions to the High Court that Gao isn't guilty, and should be released unconditionally.
"Our chief argument has been all along that the material facts of the case have not been established," he said. "There isn't enough evidence, and we wanted the High Court to change the verdict on Gao Yu to not guilty."
Outside, police threw a security cordon around the court buildings, with uniformed and plainclothes officers standing guard and preventing supporters from crossing.
Journalists from overseas media as well as reporters from Hong Kong and Macau told to stay away from the court, witnesses said.
Gao was initially sentenced to a seven-year jail term by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court in April for "leaking state secrets overseas,” but she has denied breaking Chinese law, saying that a televised "confession" on which the prosecution based its case was obtained under duress.
Gao's lawyers and relatives have repeatedly warned of her deteriorating health during a prolonged stay in a police-run Beijing detention center.
Gao, who has had heart attacks in detention, also suffers from high blood pressure, and has signs of a lymph node growth that could be malignant, her lawyers say.
Her family and supporters say she is being held in a place where only the most basic medical facilities are available, and have repeatedly called for her release on medical parole, which is allowed under Chinese law.
Speaking before her release was announced, Gao's brother Gao Wei said the reduction in his sister's sentence wasn't a surprise.
"But I have just two things to say," he told RFA. "I stand by the case made by the lawyers, which is that she is not guilty."
"[The other is that] I want Gao Yu to get the best medical attention, as soon as possible," Gao Wei said after the appeal verdict.
Mo said he made a separate application to the court of first instance for Gao to serve the rest of her jail term in a residential setting.
"This was based on the fact that Gao is elderly and her health is failing," Mo said. "According to China's criminal procedure law, the court of first instance can decide that a custodial sentence is inappropriate in cases where the defendant has multiple health problems."
"They are able to issue an order that the sentence be served outside prison," he said.
Gao had been in a police-run detention center 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, which 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, 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.
Her defense team argued that the document was already available online, and that the media organization in question could easily have downloaded it elsewhere.
Gao's sentencing sparked an outcry among rights groups and fellow activists, who said there was no evidence that she broke Chinese law.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.