Gao Yu: Chinese journalist released from jail over illness

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In this file picture taken on 5 February 2007, Chinese journalist Gao Yu addresses a press conference in Hong Kong.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Ms Gao, seen here in a 2007 file picture, is a well-known investigative journalist

A journalist jailed for leaking state secrets has been allowed to serve her sentence outside prison on medical grounds, Chinese media report.

Gao Yu, 71, was found guilty last April and challenged her conviction at a closed hearing in Beijing on Thursday.

The guilty verdict was upheld, but the jail term was cut from seven years to five and the medical grounds permitted.

Foreign governments and rights groups have condemned the guilty verdict, calling it politically motivated.

Sources have told the BBC that Ms Gao has already left prison.

'Would not survive'

The well-known investigative journalist was found guilty of sending an internal Communist Party document to Mingjing News, a Chinese-language website in the United States. The document warned against the dangers of a free press and an independent civil society.

At the time of the original conviction the court had said that Ms Gao had "illegally provided state secrets to foreigners".

Both Ms Gao and Mingjing News had denied she was the source of the leak.

However, on Thursday, Ms Gao confessed to the crime and expressed regret for her actions, and the appeals court reduced her sentence to five years and decided Ms Gao could "temporarily serve the sentence out of prison" as she was "severely ill", Chinese state media said.

Experts say Chinese courts often grant reduced sentences after convicts plead guilty. However, Ms Gao's lawyers told AP they continued to argue that she was innocent.

Many believe that Gao Yu is unpopular with the Chinese government because of her unrelenting reports focusing on China's elite-level politics, the BBC's Celia Hatton in Beijing reports.

Many people had pressed for a lighter sentence in consideration of Ms Gao's advanced age and her chronic heart problems.

Her son, Zhao Meng, had told the BBC he was concerned his mother would not survive another lengthy period in prison, her third since 1989.

Prominent human rights activist Hu Jia said (in Chinese): "I'm relieved Gao Yu can return to her own home, after a year and a half in custody... but the risk of being returned to jail at any time still hangs over Gao Yu's head, like the sword of Damocles."