November 26, 2015 / 7:09 AM / 3 years ago

China court upholds conviction against journalist but cuts two years off sentence

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court upheld a conviction on Thursday against a journalist accused of leaking an internal Communist Party document to a foreign website but reduced her jail sentence by two years in a case criticized by the West and rights groups.

Gao Yu, one of China's most prominent journalists, attends the opening of a photo exhibition by Liu Xa, wife of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, in Hong Kong, in this June 9, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

Gao Yu, 71, was detained in May 2013 over accusations she had leaked a party document that warned senior members against “seven mistaken ideologies”, including the “universal values” of human rights, according to Gao’s lawyer, Shang Baojun.

Rights activists say her case is part of a broad government effort to suppress journalists, lawyers and activists critical of the party.

Gao was sentenced to seven years in jail in April after being convicted on a charge of providing state secrets to foreign contacts.

On Thursday, the Beijing high court reduced her sentence to five years but upheld her conviction.

Shang said the court had decided to reduce Gao’s sentence after she “gave a true account of the facts of the crime during the second trial and pleaded guilty”.

Shang said he would continue to seek Gao’s release on medical parole, which authorities have already rejected three times.

“She has very serious high blood pressure and heart problems,” Shang said. “Taking into account the fact that she’s already 71, from this perspective, we are not satisfied (with the sentence reduction).”

State news agency Xinhua said later that because of her health, the court had decided Gao could “temporarily serve the sentence outside of prison”. The report did not elaborate.

Court officials did not respond to phone calls or a faxed query seeking comment. China’s Foreign Ministry said that Gao’s case had been handled in accordance with the law.

Dozens of police officers sealed off roads leading to the court and stopped journalists from approaching.

Germany denounced the court’s decision.

“The rejection of the journalist’s application, who is over 70 years old and suffers from medical problems, is incomprehensible and fills me with dismay,” Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer, said in a statement.

At a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on other countries to “respect China’s judicial sovereignty”.

British-based rights group Amnesty International said Gao’s health had deteriorated since her detention.

Gao was accused of giving the internal party document to Ho Pin, head of Mirror Books. Ho has told Reuters Gao did not pass him the document.

Gao, a freelance journalist well known for her articles critical of government leaders, has said she is innocent.

Her trial was held behind closed doors and diplomats and reporters were blocked from attending.

The case marked the third time Gao has been jailed on charges stemming from her activism and for leaking state secrets.

Additional reporting by Natalie Thomas and Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani

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