"The long imprisonment of Gao Qinrong is a horrible reminder that even those journalists who work within the rules of China's state-controlled media system are at risk of extreme reprisal for good investigative reporting," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "We are relieved that Gao has finally been released, but cannot forget the many other Chinese journalists who remain behind bars."
Gao, who worked for the official Xinhua News Agency, reported on an irrigation scandal but the agency did not publish his article. Instead, his expose was carried in May 1998 in an internal edition of People's Daily, distributed only among Party leaders. But when the news was picked up by other national media outlets, officials blamed Gao, his wife told reporters at the time.
Gao was arrested on December 4, 1998 and eventually charged with crimes including bribery, embezzlement and pimping. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in April 1999 after a closed one-day trial.
Despite receiving the support in March 2001 of several members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of the National People's Congress, China's legislature, who issued a motion urging the Supreme People's Court to reopen his case, Gao served two-thirds of his harsh original sentence.
Gao said today that he was happy to be joining his wife and daughter, but also angry, according to Agence France-Presse. He said he hoped to officially clear his name.
"I plan to appeal ... but I think this anti-corruption issue is very difficult. My hopes are dim but I will continue struggling," he said. Gao said that because his jailers knew that he was innocent, he was treated well in jail.
At least 30 other journalists remain behind bars in China, according to CPJ research. Among those, several were imprisoned after their news outlets ran reports on local official wrongdoing. Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News) editors Li Minying and Yu Huafeng are serving sentences of six and eight years, respectively, after their newspaper became the target of a government crackdown. The two were detained in 2003 less than a month after Nanfang Dushi Bao reported a new case of the deadly SARS virus, and shortly after the paper reported the death in police custody of a young graphic designer, which led to changes in national laws.