Gao Zhisheng is perhaps the most well-known of China’s rights-defending lawyers. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gao began successfully representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers denied just compensation for their land. In fact, in 2001, Gao was named by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of China’s most influential lawyers. Spurred by his success and what appeared to be a Chinese government welcoming a stronger public interest law bar, Gao expanded his work to included practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious organization which the Chinese government has long feared as a threat to its one-party rule and has declared a cult. Gao’s representation of Falun Gong practitioners did not just highlight the baseless accusations of “using superstitious sects [cults] to undermine the implementation of the law” (China’s Criminal Law, art. 300), but also the torture of Falun Gong practitioners while in police custody (for a seminal article on Gao’s work, see Eva Pils, Asking the Tiger for His Skin: Rights Activism in China, Fordham International Law Journal 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1563706).
Gao’s zealous advocacy of Falun Gong practitioners did not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, and his status as a lawyer to be celebrated for representing society’s most vulnerable, quickly changed. Gao was now viewed as a piranha of the state. In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home. However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police. For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was. In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later. During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.
Gao’s whereabouts, like recently abducted rights defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Teng Biao, and Jiang Tianyong, remain unknown. In a plea for the world to pay attention to these random and lawless detentions, Gao’s wife, Geng He, who was able to flee to the United States with their two children in January 2009, published an op-ed in today’s New York Times. Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article. Geng begs that if her husband has been killed, that the Chinese government have the dignity to return his body so that his family can lay him to rest.
The Dissident’s Wife
By Geng He
San Francisco – WITH the world’s attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, repressive regimes elsewhere are taking the opportunity to tighten their grip on power. In China, human rights activists have been disappearing since a call went out last month for a Tunisian-style “Jasmine Revolution.” I know what their families are going through. Almost a year ago, the Chinese government seized my husband and since then, we have had no news of him. I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.