China: TV ‘confession’ by journalist

The Chinese miltary cracked down hard on pro'democracy protesters in June 1989. Picture: Arthur Tsang/Reuters
The Chinese miltary cracked down hard on pro'democracy protesters in June 1989. Picture: Arthur Tsang/Reuters
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A VETERAN journalist who was among prominent intellectuals jailed during China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown has been detained just weeks ahead of the 25th anniversary of the bloodshed, on accusations of leaking state secrets.

Beijing police detained Gao Yu, 70, for illegally obtaining a secret Communist Party document and providing it to a website for publication, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

State media did not identify the document, but it is believed to be a high-level internal memo which outlines the party’s strategy of attacking Western democratic ideals and crushing dissent to protect its rule.

The strategy paper – known as Document No 9 – was seen by political observers as early and significant evidence of the hard-line stance of the leadership of Xi Jinping, who was appointed party chief in late 2012.

The latest detention of Ms Gao – who was previously imprisoned in 1994 on state secrets charges – comes amid a clampdown on activists ahead of the anniversary of the 4 June, 1989 military suppression of pro-­democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, during which hundreds of people were killed.

Ms Gao was arrested during that crackdown and imprisoned for more than a year. Her disappearance late last month was perceived by many observers as probably related to the government’s ever-expanding restrictions on people who might want to mark the anniversary.

Zhang Lifan, a Chinese historian and political commentator, said: “Gao Yu is an iconic figure with a special association with the 4 June incident.”

Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “This is an intimidation tactic. This is Xi Jinping’s way to enforce order and prevent people from speaking ill of the regime.”

Several other well-known dissidents were also taken away by police earlier this week.

Xinhua also reported yesterday that ­authorities seized evidence at Ms Gao’s Beijing home and said she had confessed.

State broadcaster CCTV showed a woman identified as Ms Gao, wearing an orange vest over a grey detainee’s uniform, walking along a hallway escorted by two police officers to a room where she appeared to be questioned. Her face was blurred out in the footage, but she was heard expressing contrition.

“What I did touched on the law and endangered the interests of the nation. This was very wrong,” Ms Gao said. “I have sincerely learned my lesson and also wish to admit guilt.”

The television confession was the latest example of a new tactic used by Chinese authorities in a hard-line campaign against information it deems harmful to party interests. Legal and journalism scholars have said such airing of confessions before trials undermines the legal process.

Xinhua did not detail the accusations against Ms Gao but said she had provided a “secret central party document” to a website outside the mainland, which published it in August.

The Hong Kong-based magazine Mirror Monthly first published Document No 9 exclusively on its website last August.

At the time, Ms Gao said she saw the document as detailing the Communist Party’s vision of pushing economic reforms in China but preventing challenges to one-party rule.

The document argued for aggressively curbing the spread of notions of western democracy, universal values, civil society, freedom of press, and other ideological concepts the party believed threatened its legitimacy.

Human Rights Watch Asia’s Maya Wang said: “The case highlights the dangerously vague Chinese state secrets law, in which the designation of state secrets is broad and ill-defined, and can’t be legally challenged in courts.”