A court in Beijing has sentenced veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu to seven years in prison for leaking a top Communist Party policy document.

Friday's sentence comes amid a widening clampdown on free speech that highlights the gap between China's vision of rule of law and Western notions of civil liberties and judicial fairness.

The 71-year-old Gao denied the charges. Gao's lawyer Mo Shaoping said Gao was convicted of leaking state secrets by giving a strategy paper known as Document No. 9 to an overseas media group. The document argued for aggressive curbs on the spread of Western democracy, universal values, civil society and press freedom, which the party considers a threat to its rule.

Gao wrote about politics, economics and social issues for media in Hong Kong and overseas.