Beijing: Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu was preparing Thursday for her trial on charges of leaking “state secrets”, in which she says she intends to plead innocent despite having admitted her guilt in a recording released by authorities.

The highly respected Gao, 70, claims she lied on that occasion under duress by the police and in order to protect her son who was arrested on the same charges but released a short while later.

In statements to Spanish news agency Efe, the journalist’s defence attorney, Mo Shaoping, explained that if declared guilty in the trial that is set to get under way Friday, Gao could face from five to 15 years in prison.

This is not the first time that Gao, who is widely known in her country for her outspoken criticism of the government, is being tried for her political comments.

In 1993, she was sentenced to six years in prison for the same offence she stands accused of now. She also spent 15 months behind bars for supporting the pro-democratic Tiananmen protests in 1989.

Gao, who is working as a freelance contributor and political commentator for Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, was taken into custody in April shortly before she was to have taken part in a symposium on the massacre that ended the late 1980s pro-democracy movement.

Police detained Gao for “illegally obtaining” a secret document issued by the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party and providing it to a foreign-based website that published and circulated it widely.

Although the authorities have not specified the document in question, all indications are that it is the one referred to as “Document Number 9”, a circular issued by the central committee last year urging authorities to deal with dissent, human rights lawyer Teng Biao told Efe.

Though at first Gao denied the charges, she admitted to them at a subsequent cross examination which was recorded and released by the state television broadcaster CCTV.

This recent tendency to broadcast video footage of the accused on television has been widely criticised by lawyers and human rights activists who believe defendants are usually coerced to confess and that the confessions are shown on television even before formal charges are presented against them.

Several human rights organisations Thursday urged the authorities to release Gao who, according to them, has been arrested for exercising her right to freedom of expression.