China journalist, 71, to serve five years in jail: Lawyer

Chinese journalist Gao Yu attending a public debate in Prague in 2009.
Chinese journalist Gao Yu attending a public debate in Prague in 2009. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese court on Thursday (Nov 26) reduced the seven-year jail sentence given to a 71-year-old Chinese journalist convicted of "leaking state secrets" by two years, her lawyer said after an appeal in a case condemned by free speech advocates.

Dozens of police officers blocked access to the Beijing high court, where the decision on Gao Yu's appeal was announced.

The court reduced her seven year term to five, her attorney Mo Shaoping told AFP.

"We think she is innocent. The sentence is just lighter, it's a slight improvement," he added.

State security prevented foreign journalists and about 10 diplomats from standing near the court, and wrestled to the ground a woman who shouted slogans in support of Gao.

The veteran reporter has suffered heart problems during her detention, and Mo added there was a "possibility" she could be released on medical parole in the future.

A former winner of Unesco's World Press Freedom Prize, Gao has been a consistent critic of the ruling Communist party's authoritarian policies.

A court convicted Gao in April of leaking a 2013 directive by the Communist party named "Document number 9" to a Hong Kong media outlet.

The document warned of the "dangers" of multiparty democracy, independent media, universal definitions of human rights and criticism of the party's historical record, according to copies widely circulated online.

The hearing comes as China's president, Xi Jinping, oversees a crackdown on dissent that has seen hundreds of lawyers, activists and academics detained in recent years, with dozens jailed.

China's already close controls on the media have been further tightened, reporters say.

France-based Reporters Without Borders ranked China 176th out of 180 countries in its 2015 Press Freedom Index.

Gao's jailing was condemned by human rights groups and free speech advocates, while Washington called for her "immediate" release and the EU demanded Beijing "review" her trial.

A consistent advocate for democracy and free speech, Gao was imprisoned following the government crackdown on student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Her political writings saw her jailed for six years in the 1990s, also on a charge of "leaking state secrets".

She was detained again in the lead-up to the Tiananmen crackdown's 25th anniversary last year, and shown by state broadcaster CCTV making a "confession" under police detention, an increasingly regular spectacle in China.