Chinese investigative journalist Gao Yu was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2015, accused of leaking state secrets to foreign media, a charge often used against Chinese journalists. She was detained in Beijing in 2014 and made a public confession on national television, an appearance her lawyer contends was forced. Formally released from house arrest in April 2019, Gao appears to face continued surveillance and intimidation by the government.

There are concerns that Gao, suffering from a number of chronic health problems including a heart condition, was not given adequate medical care while in prison. In July 2015, she was briefly taken from prison to a hospital in Beijing and received medications for diagnosed cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and heart ailments.

On November 25, 2015, Gao’s sentence was reduced to five years. The next day, she was released from jail on medical parole and was permitted to serve out the remainder of her sentence under house arrest. Though her sentence formally ended on April 23, 2019, friends of Gao reported in late April that she was continuing to be watched in her home. In brief contact with Radio Free Asia, Gao implied that she was still under surveillance by the government, being closely watched during the convening of Communist Communist Party leaders in Beijing in October 2019.


Gao Yu has decades of experience filing controversial stories from Mainland China, first reporting for China News Service and then becoming the chief editor of Economics Weekly, which would later be banned for airing the voices of political liberals and reporting on the Tiananmen Square massacre. At the time of her most recent arrest, Gao was working as a freelance reporter covering economics and politics for international and Hong Kong-based news outlets despite considerable risk and pressure.

In the spring of 2014, Gao was accused of revealing state secrets and sentenced to seven years in prison. The Chinese government alleges that she leaked “Document No. 9”, a directive that outlines an ideological offensive against advocates of human rights, constitutional democracy, and other ideas that are considered subversive by the Communist Party, to the overseas news outlet Mirror Media Group. The Group denies that it received the document from Gao. She was detained in Beijing on April 24, 2014, and sentenced to a seven year prison sentence a year later.

Her arrest came alongside a slew of arrests of other journalists, activists, and lawyers in an apparent attempt to suppress events commemorating the then upcoming 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.  Shortly after her arrest, Gao appeared on China’s national TV broadcaster CCTV confessing to the crime. Her lawyer says authorities made threats against her son to force her public statement. 

A tireless advocate for democracy and free speech in China, Gao has been repeatedly imprisoned by the government.  She was imprisoned for over a year for supporting pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and spent a further five and a half years in prison from 1993 to 1999 for “providing state secrets to parties outside [China’s] borders” in a series of political and economic articles in Hong Kong-based publications.

Gao has suffered from a number of serious health problems for years, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Citing her medical condition and the historically poor access to healthcare in Chinese prisons, her lawyer and rights groups have called for her unconditional release. 

In 2016, shortly after her work had been praised by the German president on a trip to Beijing, her home was ransacked by housing authorities who claimed that her study had been built illegally. In the course of the raid her son was beaten and detained and she collapsed. In 2017, Gao, a regular Twitter user, described in a series of tweets the continued surveillance and interference that she and other elderly and politically-sensitive Beijing-based friends face as they attempted to gather for their monthly “dinner clubs.” She appears to remain closely watched by the government, though she had officially completed her sentence in under house arrest in April 2019.

Gao contributed an essay to PEN’s 2013 report “Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China.” She is an honorary director of ICPC and an honorary member of Czech PEN.

Case Updates

June 19, 2020: Gao Yu reports that as a result of her posting videos and stories about the Covid-19 outbreak in China, her family was threatened and her son dismissed from his job. Beijing authorities called her son’s place of work on June 15, and ordered that he be dismissed “due to his parents.”

May 18, 2020: In a Twitter post, Gao explains that “workers wanted her to be put on the job,” an apparent euphemism for enduring heavy state surveillance. Uniformed police officers visit Gao at her home and ask to refrain from posting on social media during Beijing’s ‘Two Sessions,’ a meeting among Chinese politicians in the country’s capital.