On the eve of an expected court verdict, a former top aide to the ruling Chinese Communist Party hit out on Thursday at the charges against veteran political journalist Gao Yu of "leaking state secrets overseas."
Rights activists and lawyers expect Gao, 71, to be sentenced at the same time as the verdict is delivered on Friday by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court.
But Bao Tong, former political aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, said the "state secrets" revealed by Gao Yu were party policy documents that couldn't be considered a state secret.
"She got to hear about a story, that the party central office had a certain Document No. 9," Bao told RFA on Thursday. "She told her readers what she had found out, which is the sacred duty of a journalist."
Gao 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.
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, but only under rules issued since Gao was detained.
Telling the truth
Bao said the fact that Gao is being charged with leaking rather than rumor-mongering is a testament to the quality of her work.
"If she is convicted of leaking state secrets, then this is the highest possible accolade for her journalism, because journalists place the highest value on telling the truth, and on their loyalty to their readers," he said.
"[Gao's] loyalty extended to getting her into trouble with the Chinese Communist Party central office, but not one word of what she wrote was a lie," he said.
Document No. 9 lists seven "taboo" subjects banned from discussion in public debate, whether online, in schools and universities, or in the nation's political life.
Bao has previously listed them as: universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens' rights, the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party, the financial and political elite, and judicial independence.
According to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, Gao was accused of having sent information on the "seven taboos" to the editor of an overseas news website by e-mail.
Her lawyers say 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.
'Let the people see'
But according to Bao, who has remained under house arrest at his Beijing home after serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown and Zhao's ouster, Gao's actions don't add up to any sort of wrongdoing at all.
"The central office of the Chinese Communist Party should take responsibility here," Bao said.
"The central committee produces a document in line with Marxism-Leninism and nationalism, which serves the people, so what is there in this document that they can't let people see?"
Bao said it was doubtful whether public knowledge of Document No. 9 had had any sort of negative effect on society.
"I don't think there has been any pernicious influence, and if there has been, then it was caused by the central office and its Document No. 9, not by a journalist," he said.
"If this document from the central committee is a good one, then shouldn't it be put out there? And if it's a bad one that will have deleterious effects on the country and people, then surely it is the job of a journalist to tell people about it," Bao added.
Little room for hope
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it isn't optimistic about Gao's fate.
"In China's current anti-media climate, where the mainstream press is facing an increasingly stifling working environment through arrests, harassment, and media directives since President Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013, it is hard to believe there will be a positive outcome for her," the group said in a statement on its website.
Gao is among 44 journalists currently behind bars in China, according to figures compiled by the CPJ on Dec. 1, it said.
The figure is the highest since the group began keeping records of jailings and detentions of journalists in 1990.
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.
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.