On November 2nd, in Los Angeles, the International Women's Media Foundation will be presenting the Courage in Journalism award to three prominent international female journalists. The award honors women journalists who demonstrate great strength in working under difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Among the award recipients is Gao Yu of China, who was sentenced to six years in prison for "leaking state secrets". In an interview with VOA Khmer Service , and speaking through a Chinese translator, Gao talks about her dark journey as an imprisoned journalist.
62-year old Gao Yu is one of China 's best-known female journalists, and her 1994 arrest sent shocked waves throughout major media networks in China and Hong Kong. The state secret that Gao allegedly leaked to the media was related to policy decisions made by senior officials in the Chinese Communist Party. And although those decisions have already been reported in the Hong Kong press- Gao was sentenced anyway and received a harsh term in prison. She reflects on the day of her arrest.
Gao Yu: "I couldn't do anything about it, so I just accepted it. I was not prepared for this, but I was not afraid either. For instance, when I was in the (police) car on my way to prison, I fell asleep".
Gao was sent to one of China 's harshest women prisons, in which she shared a cell with 12 other prisoners who had committed serious crimes including homicide.
Gao Yu: "I was kept in Beijing biggest and remote prison. I was forced in labor-intensive work, was given small rations for food, and I lived in very poor living conditions.
The case of Gao Yu received international media attention, which led to Amnesty International appealing to the Chinese government for her release. However, they were unable to get her out of prison, but she eventually secured an early release through her own effort.
Gao Yu: "Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji was visiting America, and the Chinese authorities wanted to make friendly gestures - so they let me out of prison 6-7 months early.”
In 1995, Gao received her first Courage in Journalism award from the International Women’s Foundation, but was unable to accept it due to her imprisonment. When asked about receiving the award for the second time, Gao expresses empathy and an immediate awareness of the physical danger, and political pressure faced by women working as journalist in countries that suppressed free media.
Gao Yu: "I have a few words to say to those female journalists who are oppressed- I want to tell them, that I do understand their conditions and I admired their spirits."
Gao went on to say that she has no plans to retire and will continue her contribution to China’s free press movement.