BEIJING — Chinese police have detained a prominent 70-year-old journalist just weeks ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown for allegedly leaking state secrets to a website outside the mainland, state media reported Thursday.
Police in Beijing placed the outspoken veteran journalist Gao Yu under “criminal detention,” the official Xinhua News Agency said. Gao was the latest of several such detentions of government critics in recent days ahead of the politically sensitive June 4 anniversary.
The report said the journalist was detained April 24, with authorities seizing evidence at her Beijing home. Gao was a well-known government critic who was imprisoned after the 1989 crackdown and had been reported missing since April 26. The report said Gao had confessed to the misdeeds.
State broadcaster CCTV showed in a report a woman the network identified as 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.
Gao’s face was blurred out in the footage, but she was heard expressing contrition.
“I think what I did touched on the law and endangered the interests of the nation. This was very wrong,” 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 court trials undermines the legal process.
Gao, presumably in police custody, could not be reached on her mobile phone, which was turned off. Calls to her home rang unanswered. Beijing police did not immediately respond to a faxed list of questions.
State media reports did not detail the authorities’ accusations against Gao but said she had provided a “secret central party document” to a website outside the mainland.
The reports did not specify the website or the nature of the document in question though political observers speculated that it could have been related to a party document known as Document No. 9 that Gao had written about last summer.
At the time, Gao told the Associated Press in an interview that she saw the document as detailing the party’s vision of pushing economic reforms in China but preventing challenges to one-party rule.
Of the document, she said: “it says we must continue economic reforms but keep a tight grip on ideological controls, which now are ‘extremely important,’” she said by phone.
Scholars who had seen or heard about the document at the time said it 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 researcher Maya Wang said Gao’s detention, following several other detentions of prominent dissidents earlier this week, pointed to the great lengths to which authorities were prepared to go to deter activities that would mark the military suppression of pro-democracy protests in 1989. Gao had been arrested on June 3, 1989, just before the crackdown.
“It’s unclear what document led to her detention, but 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,” Wang said.
Gao had been convicted of leaking state secrets in 1994 in a secret trial and sentenced to six years in prison, of which she served more than five before being released on medical parole. At the time, the charge was apparently related to her writing about Communist Party politics for a Hong Kong magazine. The government never revealed the contents of the documents she supposedly leaked.
On Tuesday, Chinese authorities detained well-known rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and several other people in an apparent bid to deter activists from marking the anniversary of the military suppression of pro-democracy protesters. Pu’s associate Qu Zhenhong said the lawyer was detained Tuesday morning.
Two of Pu’s close friends, Beijing activist Hu Jia and Shanghai lawyer Si Weijiang, said the detention was likely the authorities’ retaliation against Pu for attending a seminar in Beijing on Saturday to discuss the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Several other people who attended the seminar, including Beijing-based scholars Hao Jian and Xu Youyu and blogger and free speech activist Liu Di, were similarly detained Tuesday, Hu said, citing their family members.