Fears are growing over the health of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who is serving a seven-year jail term for “revealing state secrets,” following a recent medical check-up and amid continuing political pressure on her in prison.
Gao, 71, was sentenced by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court in April to seven years' imprisonment for "leaking state secrets overseas,” but she has repeatedly denied breaking Chinese law, saying that a televised "confession" on which the prosecution based its case was obtained under duress.
Gao, whose initial appeal was rejected, has come under increasing pressure from police to fire her lawyer, her defense attorney Mo Shaoping told RFA.
“The police are trying to make Gao Yu change her lawyer, but she has refused point blank,” Mo said. “They also want her not to plead not guilty at the second appeal, but to plead mitigating circumstances to achieve a sentence reduction.”
“Gao Yu’s response was that they could say that directly to her attorney, but that she respects the professional opinion of her lawyer.”
Freelance journalist Su Yutong, who has followed Gao’s case closely, said a recent medical check also revealed an enlarged thyroid gland, and doctors have yet to rule out cancer.
“They have to do a biopsy, and she also has … [signs] of atherosclerosis,” Su said. “Her life could be in danger at any time.”
Lawyers, relatives pressured
Everyone connected to Gao is also under huge political pressure, amid a nationwide clampdown on human rights lawyers and their associates, Su said.
“Her lawyers and her relatives are all under pressure to keep quiet … I felt I had to stay in touch with international organizations and overseas governments,” she said.
“This is a terrible situation.”
Meanwhile, online activists who launched a campaign in support of detained freedom of speech advocate Wu Gan, known by his online nickname “The Butcher,” said some of their number have been called in for questioning by police.
More than 10 activists in the central city of Wuhan who wore T-shirts in support of Wu said they were called in by police, including activist Wu Xinfa.
“I told them that I hadn’t broken the law, and how could a bunch of people getting together wearing T-shirts and taking photos break the law.” Wu Xinfa said.
“I think the authorities are a bit too jittery.”
He said police had wanted to know who had made the T-shirts, and who had organized the activity.
“They didn’t say it was against the law; just that it was wrong,” Wu Xinfa said.
“They said some people had posted it online. But if I put it online, why does it matter? It’s not harmful to anyone,” he added.
'Miscarriage of justice'
Wu, 42, known by his online nickname "The Butcher," was initially detained by police during a performance protest he titled "selling my body to raise funds" in Nanchang city in eastern Jiangxi province.
He was trying to help finance a legal defense for Huang Zhiqiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe, who were jailed in Jiangxi's Leping city for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.
The four received suspended death sentences in 2000 that were later commuted to jail terms, but their lawyers and rights activists say their confessions were obtained through torture, and that the men are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Initially handed a 10-day administrative sentence, which is often given to perceived troublemakers by police without the need for a trial, Wu was then immediately placed under criminal detention on charges of "libel," "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and the more serious "incitement to subvert state power."
A May 28 article in the state-run news agency Xinhua linked the claims of libel against Wu to his criticism of the police shooting of a man at a railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in May.
Rights groups say he has been "subjected to lengthy interrogations for days in a row" since his detention, and his lawyer Yan Xin has repeatedly been denied permission to meet with him, citing "state security" linked to the subversion charge.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.