An unconfirmed report of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s death has been posted on China’s Internet. On November 17th, a netizen with the screen name GuaDai posted a message on Twitter saying “It is believed that Gao Zhisheng passed away on November 15th in Inner Mongolia where he was detained. Man will die eventually, and to die for the sake of freedom, although dead, he is still with us in spirit.”
Gao’s family has not been told by officials that Gao has died.
This rumour of Gao’s death follows him suffering years of abuse at the hands of the authorities. At the age of 44, Gao Zhisheng was found guilty on December 22nd, 2006, of “subversion” and sentenced to 3 years in prison and 5 years on probation.
After his sentencing, Gao was released on probation, but has since been abducted and released several times.
Gao has been missing since April 2010. On April 15th, 2010, Gao Zhisheng visited his father-in-law Geng Yundi in Ürümqi and stayed for six days. Geng said Gao was healthy at the time, but didn’t talk to him about his condition or how he was treated in prison. According to the New York Times, he called his father-in-law from the airport in Ürümqi and promised he would call him again when he arrived in Beijing. Gao was not heard from again.
On April 6th, prior to visiting his father-in-law, Gao had given an interview to the Associated Press, in which he discussed how he had been tortured in prison, even though he knew security agents were likely listening in. The Associated Press agreed not to publish the interview unless Gao went missing. The wire service did so on January 10th, 2011, just prior to Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States.
Gao’s probation officially ended on August 15th, 2011. During US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to mainland China in mid-August 2011, the Ürümqi police told Gao’s father-in-law Geng Yundi that Gao Zhisheng had been released. Later, police told him to arrange housing for Gao Zhisheng. But Gao never arrived and there has been no more news of him.
Gao was a successful Beijing lawyer who has been praised as the “conscience of Chinese lawyers.” He defended many who were at odds with the Chinese regime, including those whose land had been expropriated and house Christians.
He himself was targeted by the regime after he wrote three open letters demanding the Communist Party stop persecuting the spiritual practice of Falun Gong. Firstly, in December 2004 to the National People’s Congress; Secondly, in October 2005 to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao; and thirdly another open letter to Hu and Wen in December 2005.
In December 2005, Gao also wrote an open letter renouncing membership of the CCP, which he closed by saying “This is the proudest day of my life.”
Gao was abducted in August 2006 and imprisoned prior to his trial in December for 54 days, during which he was tortured. Released on probation, he and his family were put under house arrest. He was abducted again on September 22nd, 2007, and again tortured – torture which he recounted in detail in an article. He was released again in the middle of November 2007 and returned to house arrest.
In January 2009, Gao’s wife Geng He and their two children fled China for asylum in the United States, to escape the intense harassment they had been subjected to.
In February 2009, Gao was again abducted and tortured, only resurfacing in March 2010 in Shaanxi Province.
Throughout his battle with the authorities, Gao has continued trying to speak out. His 2007 abduction was likely triggered by an open letter Gao wrote to the US Congress in which he denounced the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Falun Gong and crimes against humanity and referred to the Beijing Olympics as “a dark chapter in the history of the Olympics…[that] puts shame on the whole human race.”