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China Charges Journalist with Releasing State Secrets


A picture of Chinese journalist Gao Yu shown in Hong Kong during calls for her release.

A picture of Chinese journalist Gao Yu shown in Hong Kong during calls for her release.


Chinese officials have charged journalist and human rights activist Gao Yu with leaking state secrets. Observers say she was arrested because Chinese officials do not like her comments about Chinese politics. They say officials are also unhappy about her activism in support of victims of the Tiananmen Square attacks. On June 4, 1989, the government ordered troops to shoot protesters who had gathered in the square.

Since then, Chinese officials have taken steps to suppress efforts to mark the anniversary of the attacks.

Earlier this month, Ms. Gao failed to appear at a meeting about the killings in Tiananmen Square. She had been expected to attend.

About 15 people were present at the meeting. Police later arrested at least five of them. Other attendees have since been kept under house arrest.

Soon after the meeting, Chinese state television reported Gao Yu had been charged with divulging state secrets. It showed images of her admitting to the charges. She was sitting at a table, and wearing orange colored prison clothing. She said she had harmed the country’s national interest.

“What I have done was very wrong. I seriously and earnestly accept to learn a lesson and plead guilty.”

Amnesty International denounced the charges against Gao Yu. Amnesty called them, a “smokescreen to target activists.” The group suggested that she admitted to the charges to protect her son. He disappeared on the same day she did.

State media say the journalist gave secret documents to foreign publications. But officials did not say what was contained in the documents or which publications received them.

Some observers have said the leak could be linked to a Communist party policy paper called “Document No. 9.” They say she wrote about the document last year. Foreign reporters who saw the paper say it warned party officials to reject Western political values such as democracy, free media and civil society.

Wen Yunchao is a Chinese blogger and activist. He says officials might use the document to punish her reporting of political struggles in China.

“After the document was published, Gao Yu continued to write columns and released interviews to reveal inner struggles within China’s power groups. I think that is what really enraged those in power.”

In 1989, Gao Yu was detained for 14 months after she wrote stories in support of the student protest movement. In 1994, she was sentenced to six years in prison for giving state secrets to Hong Kong media.

China has seven kinds of state secrets. They include information about major policy decisions, science and technology, and military operations. Critics say the classifications are very general and give officials too much power to decide what information is a state secret.

Last week, a migrant worker in southern China was given a 10-year prison sentence for selling military information. Reports say the man had bought secret military publications and had given pictures and other information to a foreigner. It is not known how he could have been able to get information said to be secret.

Maya Wang is a researcher with the group Human Rights in China. She works in Hong Kong.

“These cases bring out a lot of questions about China’s state secret laws, and the fact that state secret laws have often been misused and abused to prevent people from distributing and talking about public available information.”

Ai Xiaoming is an independent filmmaker and an activist. She says the measures used by the government against activists this year show China’s new leadership plans to end public criticism of the government.

“It is a way for them to tune their domestic policies. They believe that they need to use these extremely intense methods to block any view that is different.”

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