By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court has sentenced a journalist accused of leaking an internal Communist Party document to a foreign website to seven years in prison, her lawyer said on Friday, 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 the courtroom that she would appeal against the decision.
"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 State Council Information Office, the Cabinet's media arm, did not respond to a request for comment.
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 5-10 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.
"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 courthouse.
Gao, a freelance journalist who is well known for her articles critical of government leaders, has said she was innocent.
This is the third time Gao will be jailed on charges stemming from her activism and for leaking state secrets.
Gao is one of 44 journalists who were behind bars in China as of Dec. 1, 2014, making it the top jailer of journalists, said the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media advocacy group.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait)