November 21, 2014 / 5:15 AM / 5 years ago

China courts put reporter on trial, reject Uighur scholar's appeal

BEIJING (Reuters) - An outspoken Chinese journalist went on trial on Friday accused of revealing state secrets as a court rejected an appeal by a prominent Uighur scholar whose life sentence on separatism charges had sparked an outcry from the West.

A female police gestures as she asks journalists to leave from the vicinity of the courthouse where the closed-door trial of Gao Yu is being held in Beijing November 21, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The closed-door Beijing trial of Gao Yu, 70, accused of providing state secrets to foreign contacts lasted just four hours. Gao, well known for her critical articles of government leaders, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty.

Gao was detained in early May and accused of having leaked an internal Chinese Communist Party document “calling for greater censorship of liberal and reformist ideas”, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. Gao’s lawyers declined to confirm this, saying the evidence has been classified as state secrets.

In May, state television aired images of her making a confession. Gao’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters before the trial that Gao was forced into making the confession because authorities had threatened her son with arrest.

Mo said the judge would deliver the verdict at a later date.

“(Gao Yu) denied the prosecution’s allegations and she said she believed was innocent,” Mo said.

In a detention centre in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, Ilham Tohti, China’s most prominent advocate for the rights of Muslim Uighurs, lost his appeal against a life sentence for separatism.

President Xi Jinping’s government has convicted and detained hundreds of people in what rights groups say is the most severe assault on human rights in China since the 1989 crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Tohti, a 45-year-old economics professor, was jailed in September after being placed in detention for 10 months.

He had repeatedly criticised the government for not giving Xinjiang and its Uighurs more autonomy.

The court in Xinjiang refused to give Tohti an appeal hearing and said it would give its verdict in a written statement, a move that his lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, said was illegal.

Tohti would appeal the ruling to the High Court and the Supreme Court, Tohti’s other lawyer, Li Fangping, said.

Tohti would ask the court to allow him to serve his sentence in Beijing, where his wife and children live, according to Li. Tohti had been kept in leg irons for close to two months, Li added.

Asked about Tohti’s case, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing that “the Chinese government makes such judicial decisions on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law”.

Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan Editing by Nick Macfie

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