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China: Elderly Journalist Denied Care in Prison

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 July 2015
Cite as Human Rights Watch, China: Elderly Journalist Denied Care in Prison, 1 July 2015, available at: [accessed 1 June 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Chinese government should ensure imprisoned journalist Gao Yu receives necessary medical care, Human Rights Watch said today. Gao, 71, was arrested in April 2014 and sentenced to seven years in prison in 2015 for allegedly leaking an internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) document calling for greater censorship of liberal and reformist ideas.

Protesters hold up signs during a demonstration calling for the release of Chinese journalist Gao Yu in Hong Kong on April 17, 2015.

EXPAND Protesters hold up signs during a demonstration calling for the release of Chinese journalist Gao Yu in Hong Kong on April 17, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

Gao suffers from chronic heart pain, high blood pressure, a form of inner ear disorder called Ménière's disease, and an undiagnosed chronic skin allergy, according to her family and lawyer. Gao reported to them that her heart pain has become more frequent and severe recently. According to Gao, the Beijing No.1 Detention Center has only administered traditional Chinese medicine for her heart pain, but has not allowed her to take medicines that she took when living at home. Gao's family and lawyer also say that she has had no access to specialists to assess and treat her conditions.

"It's bad enough to imprison a journalist on spurious political grounds, but it's cruel, degrading, and dangerous to then deny necessary medical care," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "The Chinese government should send Gao to a hospital for a thorough assessment of her worsening condition immediately."

Gao is a prominent journalist who started her career at the government wire service in the 1980s. She later was vice editor of the state-owned Economics Weekly. For reporting on and supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Gao was imprisoned from June 1989 to August 1990. She was imprisoned again from 1993 to 1999 on charges of "illegally providing state secrets abroad" after being accused of leaking policy decisions taken by senior officials of the CCP that had already been reported in the Hong Kong press.

On April 24, 2014, Gao was detained for leaking "Document Number 9," an internal notice by the Chinese Communist Party warning its members against "seven perils" including "universal values" such as human rights. Gao was sentenced to seven years in prison on April 17, 2015. Gao has since appealed, but it is unclear when the appeals verdict will be handed down or if the court will open to hear the case, according to her lawyer. Once Gao exhausts the appeal process, she will be transferred from Beijing No.1 Detention Center to a prison.

Conditions in China's detention facilities are poor and usually marked by overcrowding, minimal nutrition, and rudimentary health care. According to relevant regulations governing detention centers, if detainees are seriously ill they "can be" sent to outside hospitals designated by the detention center.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch documented repeated instances where seriously ill detainees were not sent to hospitals until their conditions had deteriorated significantly. Some died as a result of lack of adequate care. In March 2014, Beijing-based activist Cao Shunli died after detention authorities failed to give her access to proper medical care, even though her family and lawyers had fought to have her released on medical parole. Officials transferred her to a hospital only after she fell into a coma. She died days later.

Other prominent detained or imprisoned activists reported to be lacking adequate medical care include human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has diabetes and high blood pressure; Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who has heart disease among other illnesses; and anti-corruption activist Liu Ping, who has had daily, undiagnosed diarrhea for two years while in prison.

Failure to provide prisoners access to adequate medical care violates the right to health and the Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners.

"The Chinese authorities are responsible for the well-being of all prisoners, including political prisoners in its custody," said Adams. "This includes ensuring that all get immediate access to the specialist care that they need. If this care is not available in prison, prisoners should be transferred to a hospital before their conditions worsen."

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