A Chinese court recently convicted a 71-year-old journalist and writer of leaking state secrets. Gao Yu will spend the next seven years in jail, the court ruled, while rights groups are saying the verdict is just a “blow to free expression”.

In 2000, Gao Yu was named one of the International Press Institute’s 50 “world press heroes”. According to the court she “illegally provided state secrets to foreigners”. The Beijing’s No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court made this announcement on a verified social media account.

The ruling explained that Gao was the one who leaked a 2013 directive by the ruling Communist party called “Document number 9″ to a Hong Kong media agency.

The directive warns of the “dangers” of independent media, multiparty democracy, but also criticism of the party’s historical record, and “universal” definitions of human rights, according to copies which were distributed trough the internet.

“We are very disappointed with this verdict,” said Shang Baojun, one of Yu’s lawyers, who argued in front of the tribunal that a “confession” from Gao had been forcefully extracted after vile threats have been made against her son.

William Nee, a researcher for Britain-based Amnesty International, said Gao is “the victim of vaguely worded and arbitrary state-secret laws that are used against activists as part of the authorities’ attack on freedom of expression.”

Known for her outspoken appeal to democracy and press freedom, Gao disappeared last April and reentered the public life with an intervention on China’s state broadcaster a month later, in which she admitted she made “mistake”.

Shang explained the main evidence shown at Gao’s trial in November was a confession the journalist had made after police made threats against the journalist’s son, who is also in prison. Shang added that after the verdict was announced Gao replied in a “strong voice” that she would make an appeal, but was not permitted to make any other statement.

The court did not allow the defense access to the documents used to convict Gao. The septuagenarian is ill, having a high blood pressure and many groups are worried about her health.

Chinese courts are controlled by the party apparatus and almost 100% of defendants are convicted, while appeals are rarely successful.

Police and security forces held back foreign journalists hoping to hear the verdict at more than 100 yards away from the courthouse.

Image Source: The Guardian