China Sentences Journalist To 7 Years In Prison For Leaking State Secrets

A policeman stands guard outside the China liaison office next to a placard showing a portrait of Chinese journalist Gao Yu l
A policeman stands guard outside the China liaison office next to a placard showing a portrait of Chinese journalist Gao Yu left by demonstrators in Hong Kong on April 17, 2015. A Chinese court on April 17, 2015 convicted the 71-year-old journalist of leaking state secrets and jailed her for seven years, it said, in a case seen by rights groups as part of a crackdown on government critics. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING, April 17 (Reuters) - A Chinese court jailed a journalist accused of leaking an internal Communist Party document to a foreign website for seven years on Friday, her lawyer said, a ruling that reflects the sensitivity surrounding the party's inner workings.

Gao Yu, 71, who was tried behind closed doors in Beijing last November, was convicted on a charge of providing state secrets to foreign contacts, her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said.

Rights activists have condemned Gao's detention and trial, saying it indicates a widening crackdown on dissent. The United States called on China to release Gao at the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva last month.

Mo said Gao had indicated as she was leaving court that she would appeal.

"As defending counsel, I do not approve of the judgment. I feel the court has not sufficiently respected the facts and evidence in issuing this mistaken sentence," Mo told Reuters by telephone.

Gao was detained on accusations she had leaked a party document, which warned senior members against "seven mistaken ideologies," including the "universal values" of human rights, according to Gao's other lawyer, Shang Baojun.

The Foreign Ministry said that the case had been handled in accordance with the law.

"Citizens have always enjoyed all forms of rights accorded to them under the constitution," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a regular briefing. "At the same time, citizens must strictly abide by their obligations under the constitution."

Gao, who was detained last May, was accused of passing the document to Ho Pin, head of Mirror Books, Shang said.

Ho told Reuters from New York that Gao did not pass him the document.

The maximum sentence for leaking state secrets is life imprisonment. However, prosecutors recommended a sentence of five to 10 years based on the level of sensitivity of the secrets Gao was accused of leaking, Shang said.

An unidentified official who answered the phone at the Beijing No.3 Intermediate Court declined to comment on the case, though the court confirmed the verdict on its microblog.

"This sentence has heightened our concern on the situation of human rights defenders in China, including lawyers and journalists," Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary at the European Union Delegation to China, told reporters near the court.

Gao, a freelance journalist well known for her articles critical of government leaders, has said she is innocent.

This is the third time Gao has been jailed on charges stemming from her activism and for leaking state secrets.

Gao is one of 44 journalists behind bars in China as of Dec. 1, 2014, making it the top jailer of media workers, said the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media advocacy group. (Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)