Case History: Gao Zhisheng
Gao Zhisheng is currently under house arrest and 24 hour surveillance in Shaanxi province in China. He was released from prison in 2014 but since then has remained largely cut off from the outside world. He has been disappeared, beaten and tortured a number of times since he began his rights defence work in the early 2000s.
Gao Zhisheng is a human rights lawyer who regularly took on cases involving persecution of religious minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners and those associated with the unofficial 'house church' movement. Although initially lauded by the Chinese authorities, he was soon targetted for his work defending the rights of others.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the release of one of China’s most prominent human rights activists, Gao Zhisheng who has been released after three years in jail, although it remains unclear whether he will be subject to ongoing surveillance that would limit his future human rights activities.
The 52-year-old has spent the last eight years in and out of detention and alleged torture sessions after speaking out against the abuse of his clients. On 16 December 2011, the Chinese official state news agency Xinhua reported that Gao Zhisheng had been sent back to jail to serve a three year sentence 'for parole violations'. He had not been seen since April 2010, and before a brief reappearance in March 2010, had been missing since February 2009.
Beijing-based rights defender Hu Jia said he believed the authorities would “want to try to silence him”. Mr Hu told the China Human Rights Defenders group that he had spoken with Mr Gao’s brother, who told him that Mr Gao’s teeth were ruined, and that they would seek medical treatment in Urumqi for a few days and then head back to their home village in Yulin, Shaanxi Province.
On 12 January 2013 the family of imprisoned human rights defender Mr Gao Zhisheng were permitted a visit to see him ten months after an initial visit on 24 March 2012. Reports of this recent visit only came to light on 18 January 2013. Gao Zhisheng's US-based wife, Ms Geng He, told Radio Free Asia that her father and brother in law saw Gao Zhisheng for 30 minutes on 12 January but were forbidden from asking any “sensitive” questions, including what conditions in prison were like.
Gao Zhisheng is being held in Shaya County Prison in China's remote northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Previous attempts by his family to visit him in prison a second time had been denied by the authorities. According to Geng He, Gao Zhisheng appeared to be 'relatively well' and did not need assistance walking.
On 16 December 2011, the Chinese official state news agency Xinhua reported that Gao Zhisheng had been sent back to jail to serve a three year sentence 'for parole violations'. He had not been seen since April 2010, and before a brief reappearance in March 2010, had been missing since February 2009.
The whereabouts of human rights lawyer Mr Gao Zhisheng have finally been confirmed following a prison visit by his brother and father-in-law on 24 March 2012.
Mr Gao Zhisheng is being held in Shaya County Prison in China's northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Gao Zhisheng's wife, Geng He, told Radio Free Asia that the meeting lasted half an hour, and that Gao Zhisheng, though pale, looked 'okay' and he seemed not to have lost weight. She further said that her father had been warned by the authorities not to say anything about the visit.
On 16 December 2011, the Chinese official state news agency Xinhua reported that Gao Zhisheng had been sent back to jail to serve a three year sentence 'for parole violations'. He had not been seen since April 2010, and before a brief reappearance in March 2010, had been missing since February 2009. On being informed of the news that Gao Zhisheng had been sent back to jail, his brother attempted to visit him in prison in January 2012 but was denied permission by the authorities, who said Gao Zhisheng was undergoing a 'three month period of education'.
Having been informed on 1 January 2012 that Gao Zhisheng was imprisoned in Shaya County in a remote part of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Gao Zhisheng's brother, Gao Zhiyi, and other family members were denied permission to see Gao Zhisheng after travelling to the prison on 10 January 2012.
Gao Zhisheng's wife, Geng He, who lives in exile in the USA, said that Gao Zhiyi was told by the prison authorities that Gao Zhisheng was undergoing a 'three month period of education'.
Gao Zhiyi was further told that being allowed to see Gao Zhisheng after this three month period would be dependent on Gao Zhisheng's 'good behaviour'.
There has yet been no independent verification that Gao Zhisheng is being held in Shaya County Prison.
On 16 December 2011, the Chinese official state news agency Xinhua reported that human rights defender and lawyer Mr Gao Zhisheng had had his probation revoked and had been sent back to jail to serve a three-year prison sentence. Gao Zhisheng, currently subject of a long-term Front Line campaign, has been missing for the past 20 months. He has not been seen publicly since April 2010.
According to the brief report carried by Xinhua, the Beijing First Intermediate People's Court issued a statement saying that Gao Zhisheng's probation had been withdrawn because he had 'seriously violated probation rules'. The report stated that Gao Zhisheng had been ordered to serve the three-year sentence for 'inciting subversion of state power' originally handed down on 22 December 2006 but which had been suspended for five years. His five-year probation was due to come to an end within days of the court ruling. The report did not specify which probation rules Gao Zhisheng is said to have violated.
The whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng are currently unknown. He has not been heard from since 20 April 2010.
In 2004 and 2005 Gao wrote three open letters to the Chinese leaders calling on the government to bring to a halt the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. As a result of this Gao’s license to practice law was revoked, his law firm shut down and his family began to face harassment from Chinese security forces.
In February 2006 Gao organised a “Relay Hunger Strike for Human Rights,” which involved human rights defenders and citizens fasting for 24 hours in rotation. This was launched to protest against state harassment and abuse of human rights defenders and the lawyers who represented them. Following his arrest in August 2006, Gao was convicted of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ in December 2006 and given a three year suspended sentence.
In September 2007, Gao Zhisheng wrote an open letter to the US Congress criticising his country’s human rights situation and its staging of the 2008 Olympics. Nine days later Gao was attacked on the street, hooded and forcibly disappeared. He later reported that for six weeks thereafter he was held incommunicado and subjected to beatings and repeated electric shocks all over his body.
His genitals were pierced with toothpicks and lit cigarettes were held up to his eyes for two hours, causing both to be swollen shut for two days. Amidst continuing intimidation, harassment and abuse, Gao’s family fled China in January 2009 for the United States. On 4 February 2009 Gao was once again forcibly disappeared. He resurfaced in late March 2010 after 13 months illegal secret detention. This reappearance was brief and only lasted until 20 April 2010. Since that date Gao Zhisheng has not be seen, nor have his family heard from him.