Gao, a reporter and columnist, was detained by Beijing police on April 24, 2014, and charged with illegally providing state secrets abroad, according to the Independent Chinese PEN Center.
In a televised confession on state-run China Central Television on May 8, Gao Yu expressed “deep remorse.” But in October, her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said she had told him she was forced to give the confession. According to a report by the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, Mo said, “She thinks she did not illegally provide state secrets to [someone] overseas. When we asked why she admitted to this before, she explained that the public security authority threatened her with her son, saying that if she didn’t confess, her son will be involved… But now she [has] completely overturned her original statement, not just to lawyers but… in front of prosecutors.”
Chinese authorities claimed that in August 2013, Gao sent a copy of a confidential document to an overseas website. Official state media did not say which document Gao was accused of leaking, but her lawyer at the time, Teng Biao,and others have speculated that it is Document 9, an internal Party communique that outlines seven political “perils,” including freedom of the press, civil society, and universal values. The overseas Chinese-language magazine Mingjing published Document 9 in full as an exclusive in September 2013. The magazine’s editors denied reports that they had obtained the document from Gao.
Gao previously spent more than seven years in prison. She was given a six-year prison sentence in 1993 for “leaking state secrets” and served a 15-month sentence after the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement in Beijing.
After her release, Gao wrote articles for Chinese media in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese media about politics, economy, and social trends in China. She has been honored with international awards, including the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, presented to her in 1997 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
At a closed trial that began on November 21, 2014, Gao’s lawyers entered a not guilty plea, Mo told The Washington Post. A verdict had not been handed down by December 1, 2014. Gao is being held in Beijing’s No. 1 Detention Center. A few days before her trial, the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle said Gao, 70, was in poor health. According to her lawyer, Mo, a pretrial meeting was interrupted so she could take medication. If convicted, she could face a life sentence.