Story highlights

NEW: Gao Yu is granted medical parole because of failing health, state-run Xinhua reports

She was accused of leaking a top-secret Communist Party document and was initially sentenced to seven years in jail

Her sentence has been cut to five years

(CNN) —  

Prominent Chinese journalist Gao Yu has been released on medical parole and will serve the rest of her sentence outside prison because of failing health, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

Earlier, a Chinese court upheld a guilty verdict but cut the term being served by Gao to five years, her lawyer told CNN.

Gao, 71, was sentenced to seven years in prison for revealing state secrets in April, and she immediately appealed. After twice delaying her second trial, the Beijing Supreme People’s Court finally heard her case this week behind closed doors.

Shang Baojun, Gao’s lawyer, declined to provide more details.

The government had accused Gao of disclosing a highly confidential “Document No. 9,” issued by the ruling Communist Party leadership in 2013, to an overseas Chinese-language news organization, according to her lawyer.

The document revealed the party’s ideological battle plan to counter advocates of constitutional democracy, banning public discussions on topics ranging from press freedom and civil rights to judicial independence.

Gao’s other lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told CNN back in April that the initial conviction was mainly based on a forced confession that she had since retracted.

Stern approach

“There is no defense against state secret charges in China, anything the party or the government want to label as state secrets will be labeled and treated as such – they can even do it retroactively,” Nicholas Bequelin, the Hong Kong-based East Asia director of Amnesty International, said in April when Gao was first sentenced.

“Her sentencing is in line with the very stern approach President Xi Jinping’s team has taken on dissent, information control and challenges to the party,” he added.

Beijing police detained Gao in April 2014 – ahead of the sensitive 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown – and state broadcaster CCTV soon aired her “confession” on national television.

Expressing “deep remorse” in the video, Gao told interrogators she “deeply regretted that her behavior had harmed national interests and violated the law.”

Mo, her lawyer, said the authorities had extracted the confession by threatening her son’s safety and released the police video to CCTV without her knowledge. He added the alleged recipient of the leaked document even publicly denied that Gao was his source.

An outspoken journalist and press freedom advocate, Gao began her career as a reporter for the state-run China News Service in 1979 and, in recent years, had been writing columns for overseas Chinese-language publications.

She was arrested after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and released more than a year later. She was imprisoned for another six years for allegedly leaking state secrets in 1993 – though the government has never disclosed details of that case.

Since Xi took power more than two years ago, his government has jailed human rights activists and lawyers across China despite rising international concern.

“We are in the midst of one of the most severe crackdowns on human rights activists,” said Bequelin of Amnesty International. “What the state used to tolerate, it doesn’t tolerate anymore.”

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