As President Obama prepares to visit Beijing in November, senators are urging the commander in chief to press PRC leaders on the need to allow a Chinese human-rights lawyer to move to the United States.
Gao Zhisheng, a Christian and author of A China More Just who represented people abused by the People’s Republic, disappeared into custody of the government six times between December 2006 and December 2011. Clients he had represented included the pastor of an illegal house church, coal miners, Falun Gong members, dissidents, and property owners whose land was seized by the communist government.
Gao’s wife and children were tormented by false reports of his death and allegations that he wandered away from policy custody. He resurfaced one time in March 2010, having survived torture and under constant surveillance by Chinese authorities. His family had fled and was granted political asylum in the U.S.
A month later, Gao disappeared again into the black hole experienced by China’s prisoners of conscience, kept for 20 months in the basement of a military facility before his transfer to remote Shaya Prison in Xinjiang. Now 50, Gao is reportedly in ill health.
Grace Ge Geng, who was 13 when police first raided her family’s home and seized her father, testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee last December that police sat behind her in class each day and even followed her into the restroom.
“My 3-year-old brother was forced to be escorted to the kindergarten in the police car as well. His classroom is the only room with a surveillance camera in the whole kindergarten. Starting from September 2008, the policemen did not allow me to go to school anymore,” Geng said.
“I’m living in the country with the upmost freedom in the world, but I still feel very sour in my heart because of my dad’s situation. The freedom has not yet come to my dad, so it still has not genuinely arrived for me and my whole family.”
She pleaded with members of Congress and “kind people in U.S.” to “hear our helpless voices and take actions right now.”
“I know that only you can help me get back my happiness and normal life, comfort my brother’s young heart and feelings. I know that only you can help my dad be released with peace, and let my family be reunited. I wish that President Obama and Vice President Biden could mention about my father’s name Gao Zhisheng in public occasions and urge the immediate release of my father without conditions,” Geng said.
“I wish that staffs from U.S. Embassy in China could go to visit my father in the prison. It has been almost a year now that no family or lawyer visit was allowed to see my father.”
Gao was released from prison on Aug. 7 into another monitoring situation tantamount to house arrest.
On Sept. 8, Gao’s wife, Geng He, admitted in a statement at the National Press Club that “fearing for him has been part of my life.”
“Standing against the power of the state, he used his legal expertise to educate the general public and to disseminate the concept of justice and human rights. He fought and won justice for victims with his knowledge of the law and his eloquence of expression, establishing a strong reputation and earning the respect of many in China,” she said.
“I feared that Gao Zhisheng would be subject to brutal torture again, and that the ill treatment would render him mentally retarded or physically handicapped or both. And no less did I worry that the international attention on Gao would fade…. Now, all of my fears have become a terrible reality.”
Gao reportedly told the police shadowing him day and night, “Since your job is to visit me every day and make it impossible for me and my relatives to live in peace, you may as well send me back to prison.”
He went into prison with 175 pounds on his 5’10” frame, and emerged weighing 137 pounds.
The brilliant, self-taught lawyer who took on the PRC came out of five years in a dark 22-square-foot cell speaking “unintelligibly,” with nearly a dozen teeth “so loose that they could be pulled out by hand” and only able to eat baby food. He suffers from serious malnutrition, low blood sugar, and has a small cyst on his gall bladder, his wife said.
“The persecution of Gao Zhisheng is not a result of personal enmity between Chinese rulers and Gao, but because the sinister communist regime feared his righteousness,” she said.
“The persecution of Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer renowned both domestically and internationally, is a microcosm of China’s widespread human rights abuses. Therefore I stand here today to make an earnest plea to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry: I hope you will express publicly your concern for Gao Zhisheng. It would be the most candid and the most direct support for human rights in China. Your voices will give hope and encouragement not only to Gao Zhisheng, whose plight has not ended, but also to those living in China who yearn for freedom and human rights.”
Two days later, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf responded to the plea by saying, “We have continued to raise his case both publicly and privately at senior levels in Washington and in Beijing.”
“We have urged Chinese authorities to lift all restrictions on his movements so that he will be able to travel freely and be reunited with his family as soon as possible,” Harf said. “We remain deeply concerned about his health since he was released on August 7th after serving years in solitary confinement.”
Today, a bipartisan group of influential senators stepped in on Gao’s behalf and asked Obama to make the human-rights lawyer a “priority” as he prepares to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The letter was signed by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mark Begich (D-Ark.).
The senators asked Obama to “use all available diplomatic means to urge the Chinese government to immediately allow him to relocate to the United States on humanitarian grounds due to his critical medical condition.”
“We are deeply concerned that Mr. Gao’s health will continue to deteriorate without immediate access to quality medical attention. His wife and two children have been granted political asylum in the United States and have appealed for U.S. assistance in securing Mr. Gao’s relocation to California for treatment,” the letter continues.
“As such, we ask that you engage the Chinese government at the highest levels regarding the urgent need to relocate Mr. Gao to the United States for immediate medical attention.”
Geng stressed that “kind concern and care” for her father is “the greatest protection over him.”
“In China, when my father came back home after the forced disappearance, he would try to show a lifted spirit and entertain me and my brother with humors. After I arrived in U.S., I read many reports regarding the horrible tortures that he went through during several times of forced disappearance,” Geng said in her December testimony.
“Whenever I think about this, I always feel more proud of the greatness of my father. I believe that when we speak out for my father, we are actually present and protect our own freedom and values.”