A court in the Chinese capital will announce a verdict in the case of outspoken veteran journalist Gao Yu on Friday after repeatedly delaying judgment following her trial for "revealing state secrets" last November, Gao's lawyer said.
Gao, 70, 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.
"The judge in charge of the case called me ... and said that the verdict would be given on Friday morning at 9 a.m.," Gao's lawyer Shang Baojun told RFA.
"I asked if the relatives could be present, and he said that the courtroom is pretty small, so they won't be able to accommodate very many people, so we should try to make sure not too many come," Shang said.
Shang said Gao's brother Gao Wei and her son Zhao Ming would attend the hearing at the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court.
Shang said the court had applied twice for a three-month extension to its legal deliberation period of three months.
He said it was hard to gauge whether the delay was a good thing for Gao.
"It's very hard to predict what the outcome will be on Friday, and I don't want to do that," Shang said, adding that he plans to meet with Gao one more time on Thursday before the judgment hearing.
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 with her face blurred onscreen, apparently confessing to obtaining 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, while others have argued that party policy documents can't be regarded as state secrets.
Jail term of two to 10 years
Rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, who is also one of Gao's defense attorneys, said she could face a jail term of anything from one or two years up to 10 years, depending on how the court interprets the "seriousness" of her offense.
Mo said: "The outcome that would indicate genuine progress in China's judicial system would be for the court to decide, after hearing the opinions of her lawyers, that Gao is not guilty."
Acquittals are unusual in the Chinese judicial system, particularly in high profile political cases.
A relative of Gao's who declined to be named also called for her acquittal and release.
"I have been told by the lawyer I can attend the hearing, but whether or not they'll actually let me in, we'll have to wait and see," the relative said.
"I hope they will find her not guilty and release her, but I don't know what they will decide."
A close friend of Gao's who asked to remain anonymous said she would likely appeal, if convicted.
"If the sentence passed by the court is too harsh or unreasonable, if she is sent to jail, Gao Yu will definitely appeal," the friend said. "I know her personality."
"She will keep fighting with appeals and lawsuits. Judging from the current evidence, it looks as if she is not guilty," the friend said.
"All of this will be a test of whether the court really will implement the spirit of the central government's call for the rule of law."
Rights activists rounded up
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.
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.