Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu has already survived the Cultural Revolution, becoming a leading political journalist during the turbulent but hopeful 1980s, and previous stints in jail. On Friday, a Beijing court will present the 71-year-old with another obstacle when it announces a verdict against her on charges that she “illegally provided state secrets abroad.”
Like many prosecutions of government critics, Gao’s case has been marred by procedural violations. She told her lawyer that she was forced to confess on national television in May 2014 out of concern for her son, who had been taken into custody and later released. She was prevented from meeting with her lawyers until two months after being detained. During that time police did not notify her family about her detention. If convicted, Gao faces a life sentence if the court deems her crime “particularly serious,” though her lawyers have said that they expect a sentence between five and ten years.
Gao’s journalistic career began in the 1980s at the government wire service, China News Service. She went on to become the vice editor of the liberal Economics Weekly, which was shut down for its instrumental role during the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. For reporting on and supporting the protests, Gao was imprisoned from June 1989 to August 1990. She was imprisoned again from 1993 to 1999 on charges of “illegally provided state secrets abroad” – the same charge she currently faces.
By Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Humans Rights Watch
The world has not seen this much tumult for a generation. The once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression. Islamist extremists commit mass atrocities and threaten civilians throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. Cold War-type tensions have revived over Ukraine, with even a civilian jetliner shot out of the sky. Sometimes it can seem as if the world is unraveling.
Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights. Governments directly affected by the ferment are often eager for an excuse to suppress popular pressure for democratic change. Other influential governments are frequently more comfortable falling back on familiar relationships with autocrats than contending with the uncertainty of popular rule. Some of these governments continue to raise human rights concerns, but many appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights. In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times.
That subordination of human rights is not only wrong, but also shortsighted and counterproductive. Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating most of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises will be key to their resolution. Particularly in periods of challenges and difficult choices, human rights are an essential compass for political action.