BEIJING — In a double-barreled attack on freedom of expression, Chinese authorities put a prominent journalist on trial Friday and denied the appeal of Uighur professor Ilham Tohti, a leading moderate Muslim voice.
Behind closed doors in Beijing, longtime journalist Gao Yu, 70, was tried on charges of leaking state secrets.
Meanwhile, across the country in the restive region of Xinjiang, a hearing for Tohti was convened in a detention center on such short notice that his lawyer didn’t get a chance to attend, and his appeal was ultimately rejected.
The two actions were the latest efforts in a government crackdown on dissenting voices. In the past year, numerous human rights activists have been arrested, including Chinese lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced Sunday to four years in prison for disturbing public order.
The case against Gao, an outspoken intellectual, began in April when she disappeared. The next month, state-run media confirmed that she had been arrested for allegedly leaking state secrets to overseas news media. According to Xinhua News Agency, Gao offered a secret document to a Web site in another country, and the document triggered wide attention from the public.
Although the document was never publicly identified, many believe it was an order issued after President Xi Jinping took power. Known as Document No. 9, it urges draconian responses against dangers such as media independence, democracy, civil society and other Western values.
After Gao’s arrest, state-run television aired footage of her confessing to the crime, but her attorney, Mo Shaoping, said she has retracted the confession, saying it was made in response to threats against her son. Gao’s son, Zhao Meng, was taken away by police officers on the same day as Gao and released May 23.
After Friday’s trial, Mo said that he and another lawyer, Shang Baojun, presented their legal argument and that Gao spoke as well.
“It’s hard to make any predictions on the verdict, but we made a not-guilty plea,” Mo said. “We argued the evidence provided by the prosecutor was not reliable.”
According to Article 111 of Chinese criminal law, people who give state secrets to overseas organizations can receive sentences of 5 to 10 years. More serious cases can earn more than 10 years.
Tohti’s case, like Gao’s, has drawn sharp criticism from international human rights groups and foreign diplomats. He received a life sentence in September on charges of separatism.
His prosecution comes amid a Chinese government campaign against separatism and terrorism focused on Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group in Western China.
Tohti, an economics professor at a Beijing university, is known for speaking out for the rights of Uighurs. He was taken from his Beijing home in January by authorities on accusations of supporting secession in Xinjiang.
Uighurs in Xinjiang have long complained of discrimination and repression at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s Han majority. In the past year, that resentment has manifested itself in a series of terrorist attacks apparently inspired by a violent interpretation of Islam.
In a phone interview, one of Tohti’s lawyers, Li Fangping, said that only Tohti’s brother and sister-in-law were able to attend the sudden hearing at a detention house. Li said Tohti’s brother informed him that the trial lasted about 50 minutes, and Tohti said the verdict was unjust.
Li said Tohti has asked to be transferred to a prison in Beijing because his wife and two young children are there.
In a phone interview, Tohti’s wife, Guzelnur, said she hasn’t talked with him since his detention.
Another of Tohti’s lawyers posted a note handwritten by Tohti on Chinese social media.
“I think the facts of my case are not clear . . . the facts can only be further ascertained by an open trial,” it read.
Liu Liu contributed to this report.