July 29, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

EU foreign ministers must press China about ailing detained journalist

Chinese journalist Gao Yu, a former Deutsche Welle correspondent held since May 2014, needs urgent medical attention, according to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, which urges European Union foreign ministers to summon China’s ambassadors and protest about its persecution of Gao.

Alarming reports about Gao Yu’s condition have been circulating on the Internet for several days but, despite the obvious decline in her state of health, the authorities continue to subject her to almost daily interrogations aimed at getting her to confess to her “crimes” and to fire her lawyers.

She is currently defended by the well-known human rights lawyers Mo Shaoping and Shang Baojun.

Until now, the Chinese government’s response to civil society concern about Gao and other detainees has been complete silence. Reporters Without Borders therefore urges the governments of Europe’s democracies to summon China’s ambassadors in order to express their concern.

An immediate, forceful and concrete response is needed because of the urgency of the situation,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “We ask EU governments to tell Beijing that Europe’s democracies demand respect for human rights and insist on Gao Yu being given immediate medical treatment.”

"As France claims to be “the country of human rights,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius should set an example by summoning Zhai Jun, the Chinese ambassador to Paris."

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders on 28 July, Gao is suffering from lymphadenopathy, a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck that could be caused by a cancerous tumour.

A doctor at the hospital where Gao was taken during the past ten days was pessimistic about her state of health but was not able to conduct all the tests necessary to determine the exact cause of the swelling.

But he did diagnose that she was at risk of suffering a stroke. Her family and supporters have been voicing concern in recent weeks about her history of cardiac problems.

In the light of this extremely worrying news, we demand that the Chinese authorities transfer Gao Yu to a hospital where she can get the appropriate care,” Reporters Without Borders editor in chief Virginie Dangles said.

Keeping this journalist in prison without proper medical care while trying to extract a confession could constitute an act of torture for which the highest government officials, the head of Beijing detention centre No. 1 and Beijing’s public security chief could all be held responsible.

A South China Morning Post article in June reported that Gao’s brother, Gao Wei, had voiced concern about her health. He said that she had heart pains and that, during the time she spent police custody (which continued until her appeal was rejected), she only had access to Chinese traditional medicine.

He also said she suffered from chronic skin allergies and that she has had heart problems since 1989, when she was arrested during the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.