China has given medical parole to a 71-year-old journalist jailed for "leaking" an official document warning against liberal political ideas, her lawyer said, after a conviction condemned by free speech advocates.

Beijing's high court ruled that veteran journalist Gao Yu would receive treatment outside prison for a "serious illness," her lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

Gao will be able to spend time with her family but could later return to prison to serve the rest of her five-year sentence, Mo added.

Gao Yu appealed against her April conviction for leaking state secrets at a closed hearing on Tuesday at Beijing's high court. Her lawyer, Shang Baojun, initially said the court announced that her sentence would be reduced.

Gao was convicted of sharing with an overseas news magazine a document detailing the Communist Party leadership's resolve to aggressively target constitutionality, press freedoms, and groups that seek to change society but operate outside the party.

The magazine, Mingjing News, has said Gao did not provide the document.

Foreign governments and human rights groups have denounced the verdict as politically driven, and urged authorities to release the elderly journalist, who is in poor health with heart problems.

History of dissent

Gao is known for her hard-hitting reports on elite politics, and it was not the first time she had been sent to jail.

She was locked up for 15 months on the eve of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and labelled a public enemy by the Beijing mayor, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

After being released on medical parole, she was jailed again in 1993 for six years for leaking state secrets, according to Hong Kong daily the South China Morning Post.

During that time she was awarded the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by UNESCO, which said Gao had been "fighting for years for press freedom in her country".

Source: Agencies