A Canadian lawyers group says it is “gravely concerned” about the ongoing detention and whereabouts of prominent lawyer Gao Zhisheng, known for his courage in speaking out against human rights abuses in China.
Gao, who has endured years of harassment and periodic detention by the Chinese regime, was scheduled for release from a prison in remote northeastern China on August 22nd, 2013, but he has disappeared, according to the Law Society of Upper Canada.
“The Law Society is deeply concerned about situations where lawyers who work for the protection and respect of human rights are themselves targeted for exercising their freedoms and rights under international law,” the group said in a statement.
Gao, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee known as the “conscience of China”, represented the human rights interests of repressed groups such as underground Christians and adherents of Falun Gong, a traditional meditation practice.
Gao’s troubles began in 2005 after he wrote several open letters to the regime standing up for these groups. In retaliation, the regime closed his practice and subsequently sentenced him to three years in prison for “inciting to undermine the state”.
After international pressure, that sentence was changed to five years probation. Over that period, Gao disappeared at least six times and once went missing for 20 months. Each time he was severely tortured.
Undaunted, Gao then attempted to focus world attention on his country’s deteriorating human rights in an open letter to the American House of Representatives.
In the letter he stated that he could not support China hosting the Olympic Games. Shortly after, he was taken away by police officers, beaten unconscious, and imprisoned for six weeks. In November 2007, Gao was placed under house arrest. He was denied any visitors, his bank account was frozen, and his family was constantly harassed and intimidated by state security.
He then went missing for 14 months in February 2009. It was later revealed he had been placed in detention.
After a March 2010 interview in which Gao described his ordeals and torture while in detention, he was again taken into custody and detained for 20 months, during which he was allowed no contact with his lawyer or family members.
He was again imprisoned in December 2011, this time at Shaya County Prison in the remote region of Xinjiang. Since then his family members have only seen him twice, once in 2012 and once in 2013.
Now he is missing again, and the Law Society is urging the Chinese regime to “guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Gao Zhisheng”.
The Law Society is also calling on the regime to guarantee all the procedural rights that should be accorded to Gao and other human rights defenders in China; to put an end to all acts of harassment against Gao and other rights defenders; and to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international standards.
Although Gao remains at the mercy of the powers that be, his example has led to a change in China in that other lawyers are prepared to challenge the regime on its most serious crimes.
Now there are dozens of lawyers willing to take a stand against the brutality of the regime in defence of the country’s most vulnerable.