A Beijing court on Friday handed a seven-year jail term to veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu after finding her guilty of "leaking state secrets overseas," it said.
The Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court found 71-year-old political journalist Gao Yu guilty of "breaking international law and supplying highly classified state secrets to persons overseas," it said in a statement posted to its official Sina Weibo account.
"The accused has been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, with one year's deprivation of political rights," the statement said.
During her trial, Gao 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, 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's brother Gao Wei said his sister looked very thin when she appeared in court on Friday morning, but had vowed to appeal the sentence.
On hearing the verdict and sentence, she turned to him and said: "It's fine. I'm going to appeal."
"I have never seen her look so skinny ... it's very hard for me to describe it," said Gao, who attended the hearing along with Gao's son Zhao Ming under escort from the state security police.
"I bought her clothes for her appearance in court, and I thought she might have lost weight, so I didn't get them too big, but they still looked too big for her," he told RFA after returning home on Friday.
He said the charges against "have no basis in fact."
"They broadcast the details of the investigation on television while she was still just a suspect, like parading a criminal," Gao Wei said.
An ‘unjust’ verdict
Gao's defense lawyer Shang Baojun said the verdict and sentence were "unjust."
"This verdict is unjust, because there wasn't enough evidence," Shang said on Friday.
Gao was found to have used Skype to transmit Document No. 9 to Pin Ho, editor of New York-based Chinese news magazine Mingjing News and head of Hong Kong publishing house Mirror Books, in July 2013, he said.
But Shang said there was no concrete evidence proving the allegation.
"The only evidence from the prosecution was this so-called confession that was broadcast on CCTV," Shang said, who has previously said Gao made the "confession" after threats were made against her son.
"There was no material evidence, such as computer or Skype records or a record of transmission, showing that Gao Yu sent out 'Document No. 9' by whatever means at a specified time to Pin Ho, nor that he received it," he said.
Mirror Books, which is one of many overseas outlets to receive a copy of the document in recent years, denied receiving the document from Gao in a statement posted online Friday.
"This so-called 'secret document' is not concerned with military secrets, or even economic secrets. It is a mere guide to ideology," the statement said.
Shang said Gao now has 10 days to lodge an appeal to a higher court.
Hong Kong political activists continued their campaign for Gao's release in the wake of the verdict.
"After we heard about the sentencing of Gao Yu, we went to protest outside the central government liaison office in the afternoon," pan-democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," told reporters.
"This isn't the first time Gao Yu has been subjected to political controls, and she is already over 70 years old," Leung said. "Her health isn't good, and we think she should at the very least be released on medical parole."
Gao's sentencing also sparked online anger, with comments appended to the court's tweet reading "Shame on you!" and "You yourselves will be judged by history."
"How did she reveal state secrets?" commented another user, while another wrote that "Chinese judges are the puppets of the government."
‘Ruling dynasty’ flexes its muscles
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said via Twitter that Gao's sentencing was a means for the "ruling dynasty" to flex its muscles and frighten people away from dissent.
"President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party have sentenced Gao Yu to seven years' imprisonment to stop people talking about seven common topics of conversation," Hu wrote.
"That's one year for every topic," he said, referring to the "seven taboos" of multiparty democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, the party's mistakes, judicial independence, civil rights and universal values [of democracy and human rights].
"They want to show people how sharp their butchers' knife is, when it comes to ruling their citizens," Hu wrote in a separate tweet.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said Gao's sentencing was a renewed attack on freedom of expression in China.
"This is blatant political persecution by the Chinese government," Hong Kong-based researcher William Nee said in a statement.
"Gao Yu has been convicted under a vaguely worded and arbitrarily interpreted state secrets law that is being used to suppress activists," he said. "This forms part of the ongoing attack on freedom of expression by the [Chinese] government."
Gao is among 44 journalists currently behind bars in China, according to figures compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Dec. 1, the highest number since the group began keeping records of jailed journalists in 1990.
Gao's detention last year 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 moved tanks and troops into the heart of Beijing, putting an end to weeks of protests calling for democracy and the rule of law.
She was released after 450 days but was then jailed again for six years 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.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.