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China: Health of human rights defender Gao Yu deteriorates in prison

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The health of human rights defender and journalist Ms Gao Yu has continued to deteriorate in prison and she is reportedly suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure, skin allergies and spells of dizziness. On 17 April 2015 Gao Yu was sentenced to seven years in jail for “leaking state secrets abroad”.

Gao Yu is a 71 year old outspoken journalist and prominent advocate of press freedom who has previously spent time in prison for her support of the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and for articles she wrote in Hong Kong publications in 1993.

Following a visit to the human rights defender on 3 July, Gao Yu's lawyer, Mr Shang Baojun, reported that Gao Yu was suffering from serious and frequent heart pains. According to her brother, Mr Gao Wei, Gao Yu has a history of heart disease and high blood pressure, and he is concerned that her health is now at a critical stage. Shang Baojun also confirmed that the outcome of Gao Yu's appeal, due to be announced this week, has been delayed, probably for two months. He further said that numbness, swelling and loss of muscle control in Gao Yu's left hand had gone untreated, other than with painkillers.

Gao Yu was detained on 24 April 2014 and later charged with 'leaking state secrets abroad'. It is believed this charge relates to the posting of a Chinese Communist Party circular, referred to as Document No. 9, on websites outside of China. The document contains instructions to party cadres to prevent the spread of certain 'political risks' within China, including 'Western constitutional democracy', 'universal values', 'civil society' and 'the West's idea of journalism'. The person to whom Gao Yu was accused of leaking the document, which had already become widely available online, has denied that it was Gao Yu who leaked it to him.

This is the third time Gao Yu is serving a prison sentence as a result of her activities. In 1989, as deputy editor of a liberal weekly magazine, Gao Yu ran a series of reports on the student protests and urged the government to reach a compromise with the protesters. On 3 June 1989 she was detained and jailed for 15 months. She was released early due to heart problems.

In 1993 Gao Yu was arrested again and the following year sentenced to six years in jail, this time on a 'leaking state secrets' charge in relation to articles she wrote for Hong Kong publications focussing on policy decisions of the Chinese Communist Party. Gao Yu denied that her writings involved state secrets and the decisions had already been published by other Hong Kong based media. She was released eight months early from this sentence as a result of poor health.

Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern at the deteriorating health of Gao Yu and believes that her jailing is solely a result of her peaceful and legitimate activities in the defence of human rights.

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