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China urged to release ‘disappeared’ rights lawyer

Gao Zhisheng has drawn the ire of the communist regime for defending rights of persecuted minority groups

Gao Zhisheng, a prominent human rights lawyer who defended minority groups including Christians and Falun Gong practitioners has disappeared on Aug. 13, 2017

Gao Zhisheng, a prominent human rights lawyer who defended minority groups including Christians and Falun Gong practitioners has disappeared on Aug. 13, 2017. (Photo: ChinaAid)

Published: August 14, 2023 12:00 PM GMT

Updated: August 14, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

Some 30 global rights groups have urged China’s communist regime to release a prominent lawyer who legally fought state persecution of minority groups including Christians and the Falun Gong movement.

In an open letter issued ahead of the sixth anniversary of advocate Gao Zhisheng’s disappearance on Aug. 13, 2017, rights groups called for his immediate and unconditional release, ChinaAid reported on Aug. 14.

“We… condemn the Chinese government’s use of enforced disappearances as a tactic to silence and control activists, religious practitioners, Uyghurs and Tibetans, and even high-profile celebrities, entrepreneurs, and government officials,” the group said.

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Gao was among the first human rights lawyers to emerge in the early 2000s as an important figure in China’s rights defense movement.

Most of his clients included house church Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and other minorities whom he defended in court, drawing the ire of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Geng He, Gao Zhisheng’s wife, who lives in the United States has continued her plea to the Chinese government to allow the world to “see him if he’s alive or see his corpse if he’s dead.”

Geng recently demanded a trial of her husband if he is guilty.

Beijing has not responded to her queries and requests, ChinaAid reported.

Gao’s activism had made him a target of the communist authorities and he was arrested several times.

Gao had sent open letters to the government in 2005 calling attention to the plight of Falun Gong practitioners and the abuse he had suffered while defending them, ChinaAid reported.

In 2006, Gao was sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power,” a commonly used accusation against dissenting citizens.

The group in its letter alleged that Gao “was repeatedly disappeared for extended periods and tortured by police between 2007 and 2011.”

Citing Chinese media reports, the group pointed out that Gao has been imprisoned in the Uyghur region to serve out his sentence after violating the terms of his parole.

In 2010, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its remarks stating that Gao’s detention was arbitrary under international law and demanded his immediate release.

He was reportedly released in 2014 but has been under house arrest since.

Chinese officials have categorically denied any wrongdoing and have stated that Gao was not under any “criminal coercive measures,” the group said.

The group alleged that the Chinese government has been silent on Gao’s status despite intervention from UN bodies and human rights experts.

In 2020, the Chinese government responded to a letter from six UN Special Rapporteurs investigating Gao’s status.

“In August 2014 Mr. Gao was released, having served his sentence. Since his release, the public security authorities have not taken any coercive measures against him,” the government’s reply read.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had taken up Gao’s cause under its humanitarian mandate – which aims to protect those facing undue persecution.

Apart from Gao, the group also pointed out the “forced disappearances” of rights activists Yu Wensheng, Jia Pin, Peng Lifa, Tao Hong, Yang Zewei, Chen Yang, and Cao Zhimin.

They expressed concerns over a series of disappearances and arbitrary detentions in the Xinjiang region where China is accused of carrying out a genocidal crackdown against Uyghur Muslim minority group.

The group mentioned the arbitrary detentions of Qurban Mamut, Ekpar Asat, Gulshan Abbas, Abdurashid Tohti, Tajigul Qadir, Ametjan Abdurashid, and Mohamed Ali Abdurashid in Xinjiang.

They said China has been suppressing dissidents for supporting Tibetan language and culture in Tibet and other provinces with Tibetan populations.

The group pointed out the arrest, detention, and enforced disappearance of Tibetan writer Lobsang Lhundup, musician Lhundrup Drakpa, and teacher Rinchen Kyi.


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