China Charges Veteran Journalist With Leaking 'State Secrets'

A file photo of Gao Yu speaking in Hong Kong.

Chinese authorities have placed outspoken journalist Gao Yu under criminal detention on charges of leaking state secrets amid a widening crackdown on dissidents ahead of the sensitive 25th anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square, official media reported Thursday.

Gao was paraded on the ruling Chinese Communist Party's state television channel, where she was shown, her face blurred on screen, apparently confessing to having obtained a highly confidential document and sent it to an overseas website.

"I believe what I have done has violated the law and has harmed the interests of the country," Gao said in the video.

"What I have done is extremely wrong. I will earnestly and sincerely take a lesson from this, and I admit my guilt."

Police have accused Gao of obtaining the document through illegal means, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Gao's criminal detention, which paves the way for a trial, comes as the authorities detained and questioned dozens of rights activists and dissidents ahead of the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloodshed that ended several weeks of mass, student-led pro-democracy demonstrations and hunger strikes in Beijing.

The detentions came after around 20 human rights lawyers, academics, and family members of victims attended a seminar in Beijing, where they called for a public inquiry into the crackdown on unarmed civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was among those detained by state security police, had his computer and other personal belongings confiscated and was held for questioning, rights activists said.

Gao has been out of contact with family and friends since failing to show up at an event commemorating an April 26 editorial in the People's Daily that was the first sign of a hard-line approach to the protests being taken by then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

Calls to Gao's son's cell phone rang unanswered on Thursday.

Secret document

Beijing-based rights lawyer Mo Shaoping said the document supplied by Gao didn't amount to a state secret, even under current guidelines, however.

"If this were a state secret, it would be graded as either classified or top secret," Mo said. "The sentencing would be different depending on this classification."

He said if the document were judged to be a state secret, Gao could face a jail term of up to 10 years.

Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who has been held under house arrest at his Beijing home after serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 crackdown, said the charges against Gao likely meant that she had reported fact rather than rumor.

"I am very sure about one thing: Gao Yu isn't the criminal here," said Bao.

"The Chinese Communist Party isn't an underground party," he said. "Why can't its documents be shared with everyone?"

Hong Kong-based fellow journalist Ching Cheong said that revealing information to the public is one of the basic functions of a journalist, and reflects the public's right to know what its government is doing.

"In common law countries, public interest is a major factor taken into account in the leaking of secrets, and such considerations outweigh the need to keep official secrets," Ching said.

"Of course, under a one-party dictatorship, the party says it is the state, and there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

"But from the point of view of civilized countries, the entire populace isn't obliged to keep party secrets."

Outspoken dissident

Gao, who played an active part during the Tiananmen Square protests, was detained on June 3, 1989, as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) moved its tanks into the heart of Beijing, putting an end to calls for greater democracy and rule of law.

She was released after 450 days but 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.

More recently, she has given outspoken interviews and written commentaries for overseas media, including RFA, and also worked for Germany's Deutsche Welle radio service.

Friends say Gao had recently spoken out in great detail about investigations into the family members and political allies of former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who is widely regarded as the next high-ranking target in President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign.

In February, Gao launched a stinging attack on the former party secretary of the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, blaming Chinese policies there for a string of violent incidents in recent years.

She also hit out at the detention of outspoken ethnic Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti.

"It has been the same in Tibet, and the same process has begun in Inner Mongolia. If the mistakes aren't corrected, this country will have no peace," she wrote in a Feb. 6 commentary aired on RFA's Mandarin Service.

"Punishing Ilham Tohti is the latest in a litany of errors."

In 1997, Gao was presented with a U.S. $25,000 press freedom award in absentia by UNESCO Director General Fernando Mayor, sparking a furious reaction from Beijing.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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