Veteran journalist Gao Yu has been missing since April 24, 2014, with no information concerning her fate until May 8, 2014, when the official Chinese news agency Xinhua confirmed that she is being detained by Beijing police on suspicion of “leaking state secrets abroad.” She is accused of leaking a secret document to editors of a foreign website in August 2013. Footage of Gao Yu “confessing,” feared to have been taken under duress, was shown on state television. Her whereabouts remain unknown, and there are serious concerns for her well-being and integrity.

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Background Information

According to PEN’s information, Beijing-based veteran dissident journalist Gao Yu has been detained since April 24, 2014, although her whereabouts were not known until May 8, when officials confirmed that she was being held by Beijing police in a criminal investigation for allegedly "leaking state secrets abroad." According to Gao’s lawyer, the charges are believed to be based on a document known as "Document Number 9," which Ms. Gao had written about last year. The document, sent to editors of a foreign website in August 2013, reportedly details the government's vision of pushing economic reforms while maintaining ideological controls concerning issues such as democracy, civil society, and freedom of press.

Gao, aged 70, last made contact with Deutsche Welle, a German newspaper for which she is a special contributor, on April 23, 2014. At the time of her disappearance she was writing a column entitled “Party Nature vs. Human Nature,” which is said to focus on the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and its internal conflicts. The article was never submitted, and when Gao did not show up for an April 26 event that she had planned to attend in Beijing to commemorate the June 4, 1989 democracy protests that were brutally suppressed, friends reported her disappearance. Gao had also been due to travel to Hong Kong to speak at the annual awards ceremony of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), of which she is a member, on May 3.

On May 8, 2014, Gao appeared in a televised "confession" shown on China's national broadcaster CCTV in an early morning news program. The report blurred out her face but showed her full name, ending speculation over her whereabouts two weeks after she disappeared. Gao said "I admit that what I've done touched on legal issues and threatened national interests." She said she was "deeply remorseful" of her actions and "willing to accept legal punishment." The "confession" is feared to have been extracted under duress, heightening concerns for her well-being and chance of a fair trial.

The right to a fair trial, as enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess guilt.

Gao Yu was formerly the chief editor of Economics Weekly before being barred from publishing. She was first arrested on June 3, 1989, for an article she wrote for a Hong Kong newspaper supporting student protesters in Tiananmen Square, and was imprisoned for over a year. She 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 is known for her fiercely critical political analysis and knowledge of the inner circles of the Chinese Communist Party.

She has continued to work in China as a freelance journalist in spite of considerable restrictions and pressure. Gao Yu 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.

Gao’s arrest comes in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement, amid an apparent renewed crackdown on dissent.

Between May 4 and 5, 2014, five dissident writers—including two ICPC members—were detained on suspicion of causing a disturbance after they attended a  gathering on May 3 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen. On May 7, 2014, Hong-Kong-based publisher Yao Wentian was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on charges that are believed to be politically motivated.   

Write A Letter

  •  Expressing serious concern about the arrest and well-being of veteran journalist Gao Yu, and urging that she is protected from ill-treatment and granted access to family and a lawyer of her choice;
  • Calling for her immediate and unconditional release because she is being persecuted for her legitimate professional activities;
  • Expressing concern that she has been shown "confessing" on state television, in contravention of her right to a fair trial;
  • Protesting the renewed crackdown on government critics in recent months, and reminding Chinese authorities that Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of speech and that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, they are obliged to “refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.”

Send Your Letter To

His Excellency Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025
Salutation: Your Excellency

Fu Zhenghua
Director, Beijing Public Security Bureau
Beijingshi Gong’anju
9 Dongdajie, Qianmen, Dongchengqu,
Beijing 100740, P.R. China
Fax: +86 10 65242927
Telephone: +86 10 8522 5050 (Chinese only)
Salutation: Dear Director

Please send copies to the Chinese Embassy in your country.

**Please contact PEN if sending appeals after June 10, 2014**