Following Chinese state media reports that Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng violated probation and will be sent back to prison, Catherine Baber, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International issued the following statement Friday:
This is truly shocking news. We have not heard from Gao Zhisheng in 20 months – his family has not known if he is dead or alive and now the authorities send out a cryptic announcement that his so-called probation has been revoked. There is nothing lawful about the way the authorities have handled Gao Zhisheng’s case.
The authorities have tortured Gao Zhisheng, subjected him to 20 months enforced disappearance, held him captive and separated him from his family, causing unbelievable stress to his loved ones.This inhumane treatment must stop. He has suffered enough. His family has suffered enough. He must be freed.
The authorities’ belated attempt to cast a veneer of legality over their treatment of Gao Zhisheng is truly shameful. Through a combination of illegal house arrest followed by enforced disappearance, Gao Zhisheng has already been captive for nearly double his original ‘suspended’ sentence.
The international community, diplomats, politicians and others have made Gao Zhisheng a high priority case in meetings with Chinese officials. But this has not been enough. We urge the international community to continue to press the Chinese government for Gao’s release. The international community must not let up in their condemnation of this travesty of justice.
Mr. Gao, 47, is one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers and has been disappeared by the Chinese government since April 20, 2010. He is a husband and the father of two children.
Following the announcement Friday, ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu immediately contacted supporters in the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament calling for a strong response. “Silence is not a diplomatic option,” he said. The statement below is the first public response by U.S. congressional leaders to Friday’s developments in Gao’s case.
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Co-Chairmen Frank Wolf and James McGovern also called for his immediate and unconditional release and questioned how someone under House arrest and who actually went missing for more than a year-and-a-half could violate their parole. “We urge the global community to speak with one voice and tell Beijing that Gao’s continued harassment and unjust imprisonment is simply unacceptable. It is critical that this administration must firmly stand up and show support for those who are jailed for peacefully seeking freedom and human rights,” said Wolf and McGovern.
According to Washington-based human rights organization Freedom Now, which represents Mr. Gao as his international pro bono legal counsel, on September 2007, Mr. Gao wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress, detailing human rights violations in China. He was promptly apprehended and tortured, during which time authorities beat Mr. Gao with batons, held burning cigarettes to his face, and used toothpicks and electric shocks to pierce his genitals. In January 2009, after years of government threats and constant, humiliating surveillance, Mr. Gao’s wife and two children secretly fled to the United States and sought asylum.
The United Nations, human rights organizations and several governments have called upon China to reveal the whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng. During the last two years, the European Union has repeatedly called on the Chinese government to make his location knows, to give Mr. Gao access to a lawyer and to allow him to maintain contact with his family. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, asked the Chinese government last year to “clarify without delay the situation of Gao Zhisheng and to open a fully independent and transparent investigation into his disappearance.”
U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China Chairman Christopher Smith and Cochairman Sherrod Brown called on Chinese authorities again in August to immediately account for and free China’s most famous human rights lawyer. “China’s shocking treatment of Mr. Gao is unconscionable and cannot be reconciled with China’s desire for international respect and recognition,” said Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith. “It has now been five years since authorities abducted Mr. Gao on August 15, 2006, escalating their brutal repression of Gao and his family. Since then Mr. Gao has been tortured, threatened with death, sentenced to prison, and forcibly ‘disappeared,’” Mr. Smith said.
In April 2010, Gao’s wife, Geng He gave an interview to Radio Free Asia’s Cantonese service during which she said that she didn’t know if her husband was alive or dead: “We are all just waiting for a call.”
She appealed to President Barack Obama leading up to and during the state visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao. She asked President Obama to release Gao and “let him come to the United States and unite with our family.”
In March 2011, Gao’s wife penned an Op-Ed in The New York Timesrepeating her appeal: “Indeed, I am excited to have just learned that the United Nations has demanded that my husband be released, and hopeful that it will take a stand for the other prisoners as well. I appeal to Mr. Obama — a father, lawyer and leader of the country that has become my family’s new home — to make sure it does so. At the very least, he should ask President Hu Jintao to let Zhisheng contact us. If he has been killed, we should be allowed the dignity of laying him to rest.”
Background on Gao’s Arrest, Imprisonment and Disappearance
Gao Zhisheng is a prisoner of conscience. Since 2006, he has been repeatedly tortured. He remains at high risk of further torture and other ill-treatment.
In December 2006 Gao Zhisheng received a suspended three-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion.” The authorities’ tight control over him went far beyond the restrictions that may lawfully be placed on those under a suspended sentence. Initially he was held under illegal house arrest, then, following publication of an account of his torture, police took Gao Zhiseng away from his family home on February 4, 2009.
Fourteen months later in late March 2010, Gao Zhisheng briefly appeared in Beijing after the authorities came under domestic and international pressure to disclose information about him. At the time, rumors about his possible death at the hands of the authorities had begun to circulate.
He gave a televised interview to the Associated Press on April 7, 2010 at a Beijing teahouse. During the interview, Gao Zhisheng said that he was giving up his role as a prominent government critic so that he could reunited with his family: “I don’t have the capacity to persevere. On the one hand, it’s my past experiences. It’s also that these experiences greatly hurt my loved ones. This ultimate choice of mine, after a process of deep and careful thought, is to seek the goal of peace and calm.” He added: “You know the main basis for choosing to give up is for the sake of family feelings. I hope I can reunite with them. My children need me by their side growing up.”
Two weeks later, sometime between April 9-12, 2010, Gao Zhisheng was seen leaving his Beijing home and getting into a vehicle parked outside his building. He was carrying just a backpack when he left. This was last time he was seen or heard from. From then on, Gao was subjected to enforced disappearance, with spokespersons for the government denying all knowledge of his detention.