This Chinese lawyer made a career defending those oppressed by China’s atheistic government. From members of the underground Christian church to Falun Gong adherents, Gao Zhisheng was a defender of the persecuted and was himself persecuted. After two stays in prison failed to daunt this courageous activist, the Chinese government disappeared him in early 2009. At that time we had no way of knowing whether this valiant advocate for human rights was alive or dead.
Gao Zhisheng was seized by a dozen police officers and last seen in public on February 4, 2009. He has been repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, imprisoned and tortured by Chinese authorities for defending the persecuted. He has been an unyielding and iconic advocate for justice in the Chinese courts and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his excellent human rights work.
Rumors of Gao Zhisheng’s death have circulated since December 2009, but were later disputed by reports of Gao going “missing” from Chinese police custody. On January 21, 2010, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu vaguely acknowledged Gao was “where he should be,” but on February 4, 2010 commented that he did not know where Gao Zhisheng was saying, “China has 1.3 billion people and I can’t know all of their whereabouts.”
Gao was briefly released on April 6, 2010 and allowed two short weeks of freedom before being “disappeared” once again by Chinese security forces. During this second disappearance it was widely believed that the Chinese security forces had murdered him. Gao’s daughter, Grace Geng, wrote a heartfelt plea to President Obama, asking him to negotiate with the Chinese government for her father’s body.
In December of 2011, China announced that Gao was being returned to prison for parole violations allegedly committed after he was illegally detained by Chinese security forces. They said he was to serve another three years. Gao’s brother repeatedly requested to know Gao’s whereabouts, if he could visit, and any information regarding his brother’s wellbeing.
December 29, 2011, the Chinese government informed Gao’s brother he was being detained at the remote Shaya prison. On March 24, 2012, Gao’s brother was allowed to visit Gao in prison only for a short thirty minutes. Gao was not able to talk about where he had been or what he had been through all these years.
In August of 2012 two defense lawyers traveled to the prison to meet with Gao but were turned away and given the response that Gao did not want to meet with and family or lawyers. Later in November, Gao’s family received a letter purportedly from Gao himself instructing his family not to visit. We all were very afraid what this strange letter could mean.
In China on January 23 of this year Gao Zhisheng’s brother and father-in-law were able to visit him at Shaya Prison in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This has been his first family visit since March of 2012. This most recent visit in gave us the much-needed confirmation that Gao was still alive. We will not stop advocating for his freedom. We call for Gao’s immediate and unconditional release and further call for China to allow him to leave to be reunited with his family in the US.