Sunday, March 21, 2010

Where is Gao Zhisheng?

Where is Gao Zhisheng?

If anyone knows, please let us know.

He's a self-taught human rights lawyer, who in 2001 was named by the Ministry of Justice as one of China's top 10 lawyers.

But since February 4, 2009 he has "disappeared" and the Chinese government will not explain where he is.

In between the stubborn silence there are bits of conflicting reports from the authorities who either don't have their stories straight or wish to put human rights groups and journalists on a wild goose chase.

Last September they told his brother he was "missing", which was meant to mean that he was dead or badly beaten he couldn't be shown in public; another said Gao was where he should be -- in Urumqi working, but none of his family members have heard from him in Xinjiang. And most recently Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said that Gao has been charged with subversion without going into detail.

Jerome Cohen, a China law expert and part of Gao's international pro bono legal team has co-written an op-ed demanding the Chinese government show Gao to prove his existence.

Perhaps, given the Chinese government's flagrant disregard of its own law, a call for his release seems pointless. So, we instead also ask the government to do something much easier — produce Mr. Gao to an impartial observer, such as an official from the United Nations or the International Committee of the Red Cross, to verify his well-being, provide details of Mr. Gao's alleged conviction for "subversion," and provide family access.

What has Gao done? Yes he has ruffled feathers, but he is doing according to Chinese law. He has stood up for the rights of migrant workers and even Falun Gong members. He is only doing it because he sees people's rights infringed upon and uses the law to help them.

What did he get in return? He was interrogated by the police, beaten and tortured. He wrote the account and published it, talking about being sexually assaulted, including toothpicks in his genitals and electric shocks.

His family has suffered too. His teenage daughter was so mentally distraught having police following her everywhere that she couldn't even bear going to school anymore.

That's when his wife had enough. Without Gao's knowledge, she took their two children and they made a perilous escape out of the country through Thailand to the United States where they are now.

A month after that Gao disappeared.

So where is he?

Journalists have been told flat out not to ask about him anymore.

The other day after several questions about Gao, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, "I will not answer you," adding "so I hope you will give up such efforts."

The wrong words to say to dogged reporters.

The questions will continue.

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