Disappeared Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Ordered “Back to Prison” Highlights Law’s Arbitrariness in China
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, December 16, 2011) – The human rights lawyer and activist Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), who has been missing for the past 20 months, reportedly has been put “back in jail,” according to a brief English-language report from the official Chinese news agency Xinhua. Just a few days before Gao would have completed his five-year probation term, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court abruptly issued a statement withdrawing Gao’s probation and ordering him to serve his full three-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power,” which was handed down on December 22, 2006. The court reportedly justified its decision by claiming that Gao had “seriously violated probation rules” a number of times. It is unclear which specific rules Gao is claimed to have violated – no hearing was held on the revocation of his probation (not mandatory under Chinese law), and the authorities have not publicly provided any details.
The brief Xinhua statement did not indicate which prison Gao has been, or would be, sent to, and none of his family members or friends have reported speaking to Gao or having knowledge of his whereabouts. Gao Zhiyi (高智义), an older brother of Gao Zhisheng, when reached by CHRD by phone earlier today, remarked: “Government officials first denied knowing his whereabouts, and now they are putting him back in jail? It proves that the government has been holding him all this time! But I’m worried that he has been killed and this claim is only intended to buy time.” Gao spoke with CHRD from Gao’s home village in Jingbian County, Yulin District, Shaanxi Province.
Gao Zhiyi said that no government official had notified the family of this latest development. He last saw his brother on Tomb Sweeping Day in early April 2010, when Gao Zhisheng was brought to the village cemetery by public security officers from Beijing in a fleet of four vehicles. Since then, Gao Zhiyi has phoned the relevant public security officers in Beijing many times to inquire about the whereabouts of his brother, but after he was told that Gao Zhisheng had gone missing, the public security officials stopped taking his calls.
“Today’s announcement that Gao Zhisheng would be put back in jail is the clearest acknowledgment to date by the Chinese government that it has secretly detained Gao for the last twenty months despite its repeated denials,” said Renee Xia, International Director of CHRD. “Yet Gao’s disappearance is not lifted since his whereabouts remain essentially unknown.”
Gao’s repeated disappearances since 2007 marked the tip of an iceberg. Secret detention and disappearance have now become a common tactic used by Chinese authorities to persecute dissidents and activists, especially starting in February this year, when the Chinese government responded to online calls for “Jasmine Revolution” protests with one of the harshest crackdowns on dissent and activism since the post-Tiananmen era. Within months, at least 24 individuals were subjected to enforced disappearance and 52 individuals were criminally detained.
Disappearance has become so useful to the Chinese government that it has rushed to try to legalize enforced disappearance: Proposed amendments to China’s Criminal Procedure Law are currently being considered by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, as CHRD noted in its recent statement, “Human Rights Day 2011, A Dismal Year for Human Rights Defenders in China.”
As a former lawyer and director of the Beijing Shengzhi Law Firm, Gao Zhisheng took on “sensitive cases,” defending, for example, Falun Gong practitioners and individuals persecuted for their involvement in unofficial house churches. As a result of this and other peaceful activities he engaged in as a human rights defender, the Beijing Justice Bureau revoked his law license and shut down his law firm. Gao was also outspoken in the overseas media about human rights violations in China. Gao was detained on August 15, 2006, and arrested on September 21, 2006, on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” His trial took place on December 12, 2006, and on December 22 he was sentenced to a three-year prison term, suspended for five years, and one-year deprivation of civil and political rights. While on probation, Gao was disappeared on September 22, 2007, by Beijing police officers. Gao was disappeared again on February 4, 2009. He then suddenly resurfaced in late March 2010 and gave several media interviews in which he described the torture he had suffered while held in secret detention. Gao was disappeared again in late April 2010, just after visiting his family in Shaanxi Province.
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CHRD calls on the Chinese government to immediately release Gao Zhisheng, who, under both Chinese and international law, should not be deprived of his liberty in the first place for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and the peaceful defense of the rights of others.
At a bare minimum, the Chinese government must immediately disclose Gao Zhisheng’s whereabouts; if he has already been transferred to a prison, then the government must provide the exact name and location of the prison where Gao is serving his sentence. Gao’s family and any lawyer authorized by his family must be permitted to visit Gao.
CHRD also calls on the National People’s Congress to abandon the proposed revisions to China’s Criminal Procedural Law that would effectively legalize the practice of enforced disappearance in gross violation of international human rights law.
Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660, email@example.com
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