After his release, the Chinese journalist gave an interview to journalists from Nanfang Dushi Bao and Nanfang Zhoumo which was published on 14 December. He talked about his years in detention and his prison conditions. Here are a few excerpts.
Nanfang Zhoumo : How many times have you seen your family during the eight years in prison?
Gao Qinrong : The prison regulation is one visit per month. At first, my wife was very worried. She cried every time that she saw me. In 2000, I called my child. She picked up the telephone. My wife did not want to tell her that I was in prison. So she said that I was overseas. For the past eight years, my daughter had no idea where I was.[Gao Qinrong was arrested in 1998]."
Nanfang Zhoumo: How was your relationship with the guards and inmates in the prison?
Gao Qinrong : No matter whether it is the guards or inmates, they all have sentiments of pity. For example, when a prison political commissar talked to me once, he said, "We understand your situation through the media reports."
(...) I was sent to bootcamp for a few months. After the Chinese New Year, I was assigned to work at the prison newspaper. In 2002, I took two first-class prizes in the Huabei and Dongbei rating of prison newspapers.
(...)At first, I could not sleep at night. Then I thought I might as well as accept this. I have no issues with the prison itself. So I wanted to do well for the newspaper while I continued my appeals.
Nanfang Zhoumo : What was the worst part of your prison experience?
Gao Qinrong : I was depressed. When people come around to inspect, their looks are an insult to your character. It was depressing. My health deteriorated. My hands trembled whenever I get worried.
Nanfang Zhoumo : What did you feel at the time?
Gao Qinrong : Elation, solemnity, anger, sadness, anger. I was elated because I will get to see my wife and daughter immediately. I was solemn because even though National People Congress representatives, National Political Consultative Committee members and many media spoke out on my behalf, nothing ever came out of it; I was angry and sad because the assault on Gao Manqiang is still an unsolved case.
(...) Gao Manqiang was in the same prison as me. He was crippled as soon he walked out of the prison gate. He was unconscious for 48 days. Some fellow inmates who left before me told me to let them know when I was coming out, because they would bring me a steel helmet and a bullet-proof vest. Fearful of another Gao Manqiang incident, the prison authorities took me home in their vehicle.
Nanfang Zhoumo : Are there any other specific plans?
Gao Qinrong : There are many economic criminals in prison and they have offered me some suggestions. Some of the friends offer me special rights to think about. The upfront investment is relatively low. I can get going with 10,000 RMB. Then I want to write a book about my experiences. I have written a 50,000-word reportage article. If I work on it some more, I can get a long essay. I also want to write a screenplay based upon my prison experience. I have also thought about being a reporter again.
Nanfang Zhoumo : Have you adapted after getting out of prison?
Gao Qinrong : In prison, I kept reading the newspapers and I learned to use the computer. After I got out of prison, I felt that this society has changed a lot. I need to understand this society. Freedom is a blessing. That is something that I can feel deeply.
Gao Qinrong told a reporter from Nanfang Dushi Ribao that the prison governor had urged him to make a written confession. But he refused to do so in exchange for a reduction in sentence because he was not guilty. "I have to maintain my human dignity. Outside prison, I’m an honest and frank person. Inside prison, I’m also an honest and frank person," he said.
Nanfang Dushi Ribao : When you wrote the report, did you anticipate the storm that would result?
Gao Qinrong : I really did not imagine it. At the time, it was an instinct. I found something out and I had to speak up. This was not because I was after some particular person. I want them to make amends. I am just a writer and I tend to imagine the world to be good and perfect. I did not think that I was doing anything bad, and therefore people can’t do anything to me.
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Journalist Gao Qinrong released five years early
Reporters Without Borders expressed huge relief at the early release of journalist Gao Qinrong, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1999 for exposing a corruption scandal implicating top provincial officials.
Gao, who worked for the official Xinhua news agency, was arrested on 4 December 1998 after writing about corruption linked to an irrigation project in Shanxi province in central China. He was sentenced on 28 April 1999 for “corruption” and pimping.
He was freed nearly five years before the end of his original sentence after benefiting from a third successive reduction in his term for “good behaviour” in jail. He was given similar reductions in 2002 and 2004.
"Gao Qinrong, who was unfairly sentenced to a very harsh prison term, has already paid very dearly for his work as a journalist investigating the corruption which is poisoning China,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“We are delighted at his release but it is important to point out that this journalist has already spent eight years of his life in prison and that 31 other journalists are currently in prison for trying to freely inform the Chinese public”, it added.
Gao confirmed to Reporters Without Borders by phone that he had been freed at 3pm on 7 December 2006 from Prison N°1 in Qixian, Shanxi province, southwest of Beijing.
“My health is not too bad. I just need to rest at home now, but I plan on going before the courts so as to be acquitted,” he said from his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.
Gao expressed strong anxiety about threats from people whom he had named in his investigations. One of his co-defendants was beaten up by henchmen in the pay of an official on the very day of his release, in 2003. Mindful of this, Gao got police and prison authorities to agree to drive him home in an official vehicle and to put him under protection.
The journalist’s family and former colleagues have warned him to be careful, for fear that former officials could try to revenge themselves on him in connection with articles which appeared in the media in 1998.
Gao Qinrong, now 51, expressed gratitude for the support of journalists, media and Reporters Without Borders, which defended him and supported his wife during his long years in detention. Several western countries had put his name on a list of political prisoners whose release they were requesting.
Over 16 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. More than two hundreds news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so that their cases will not be forgotten.
Currently, Gao Qinrong is sponsored by Club de la presse de Baden Baden, Club de la presse de Clermont-ferrand, Club de la presse du Pays Basque, France 2, France bleu pays d’Auvergne, France Info, Journalistes.ch - bulletin de la Fédération suisse des journalistes, La Vanguardia, L’Indépendant, L’Union du Cantal, le Semeur hebdo, Maison de la presse de Mons, Mémoire de trame, Midi Libre, Milhistorias, Svenska Nyhetsbrev, Pressens Tidning, RNE, Södermanlands Nyheter, Miljörapporten, Télé bruxelles, Tele5, VSD, El Pais, Antena 3, Letherbridge Herald, Edmonton Sun, Mairie de Longeau, En Marche, Association des journalistes pour la nature et l’économie, Fun Radio, 98.5 FM (Montréal)