Update to UN on Gao Zhisheng – July 23, 2012

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To: UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances


Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) hereby respectfully submits an update concerning the enforced disappearance of Mr. GAO Zhisheng (高智晟), following the urgent appeal on behalf of Mr. Gao that we submitted on April 15, 2009. (See: “Communication on a Victim of an Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance,” https://www.nchrd.org/2009/04/15/un-work-on-cases-gao-zhisheng-april-15-2009/.)

As an initial matter, CHRD would like to briefly present background on the case of Gao Zhisheng and then provide updated information, which was obtained between January 2010 and May 2012. Mr. Gao, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, once served as the director of the Beijing Shengzhi Law Firm, which had its license suspended by the Beijing Bureau of Judiciary Affairs in November 2005. Gao is best known for representing defendants persecuted for activities tied to the banned sect Falun Gong and unofficial Christian house churches. He was detained on August 15, 2006, and arrested on September 21, 2006, on a charge of “inciting subversion of state power” (Criminal Law art. 105(2)). His trial took place on December 12, 2006, and he was sentenced 10 days later to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years. CHRD strongly believes that Gao’s arrest, conviction, and disappearance have been in retaliation for his involvement in “sensitive” legal cases and other rights-defense activities. CHRD has found no evidence that Mr. Gao engaged in any acts that would constitute “inciting subversion of state power,” a crime commonly used by the Government to prosecute activists and dissidents for peaceful expression and other legally protected behavior. Neither China’s Criminal Law nor relevant regulations or interpretations define “inciting subversion,” or what conduct constitutes the crime. (For more on this issue, see CHRD’s 2008 report, “Inciting Subversion of State Power”: A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China.)

On September 22, 2007, while Gao was on probation, he was “disappeared” by Beijing police officers from the State Security Bureau and the National Security Unit. Days before his disappearance, he wrote to the U.S. Congress urging members to focus on China’s human rights concerns before the Olympics. Gao was “disappeared” again on February 4, 2009, when Gao’s relatives saw at least seven policemen take him from his home in Shaanxi Province. (See more background on Gao in the urgent appeal from April 2009.)

In January 2010, Beijing national security officials told Gao’s brother, Gao Zhiyi (高智) that Gao had gone “missing” and they did not know where he was, according to lawyers with knowledge of Gao’s case. Before this admission, Chinese officials had refused to confirm that Gao was in police custody since his disappearance nearly a year earlier. Concerned about his brother’s fate, Gao Zhiyi went to Beijing to seek official information about his detention. When he spoke with a national security officer responsible for detaining Gao Zhisheng, he was told that Gao had “walked out” of the police station and “became lost” on September 25, 2009. This statement raised fears that Gao was possibly being subjected to mistreatment, including torture. At that time, Gao Zhisheng had been last heard from in July 2009, when he called Gao Zhiyi and simply said that he was fine and that his brother should not to worry about him.

Mr. Gao eventually made contact with the outside world in March and April 2010, during which time he gave several interviews that revealed, among other violations, torture he had suffered while in police custody. According an article in the South China Morning Post published on June 13, 2010, Gao indicated that he had been treated “like an animal” between February 2009 and his reappearance, and expressed concerns that he would “disappear” again—and may even be sent to another country. It was reported at the time that Gao “seemed in good health and mentally fit,” but Gao also said he had been tortured for 48 hours during his most recent disappearance and was constantly subjected to degrading treatment, such as being forced to sit in a fixed position for 16 hours a day, denied toilet paper, toothbrushes, and showers. At this time, Gao also expressed deep concern for his family members both in China and in the United States, to where his wife and child had fled in January 2009. Even as Gao was granting interviews, it was believed he was still under heavy surveillance, and that the Government had “produced” Gao only in response to international pressure. After his reappearance, pressure eased on the Government, which simply “disappeared” him again later in April 2010, immediately after Gao had visited family members in western China.

In July 2011, Gao Zhiyi told CHRD that he had not been able to obtain any information about his brother from the authorities since Gao Zhisheng had gone missing in April 2010, despite repeated efforts to find out what had happened to him. Gao Zhiyi said that he had called the section chief responsible for handling the guarding and surveillance of Gao Zhisheng several times to ask for information about his brother. Every time, the chief responded that he did not know where Gao was, and occasionally even suggested that Gao may have disappeared on his own. When Gao Zhiyi told the chief that he was thinking about coming to Bejing during the annual “Two Meetings” in March 2011, the chief said that he would tell him Gao Zhisheng’s whereabouts once the sessions were over. However, when Gao Zhiyi called after the “Two Meetings” concluded, the chief once again said that he did not know where his brother was. Gao Zhiyi responded that it was unacceptable for the government not to inform the family of Gao Zhisheng’s whereabouts for 15 months, and that if his brother were not released on August 14—the date when Gao’s probation related to his 2006 conviction for “inciting subversion of state power” was set to expire—he would do whatever was necessary to “seek an explanation.”

No further information emerged publicly about Mr. Gao until December 16, 2011. On that date, the Xinhua news agency, an official Chinese media outlet, reported that the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, which had issued the original verdict in Gao’s case, was sending Gao to prison to serve his sentence for “inciting subversion of state power”; the reason cited was that Gao had violated terms of his probation on numerous occasions. The announcement came only days before Gao’s period of probation was set to expire—an indication that the revocation of his probation was very likely only another retaliatory act against Gao. At the time of the announcement, it was still unclear where Gao was being detained or where he would serve the sentence; however, on January 1, Gao Zhiyi received notification from Shaya Prison in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that his brother had been admitted there, after which time his family made thorough preparations for a visit. With Gao Zhisheng’s circumstances still in doubt—some even questioned whether he was still alive—Shaya Prison authorities cast more suspicions on the lawyer’s fate by refusing to allow Gao Zhiyi and three other relatives to visit him as scheduled, on January 10, 2012. In not allowing the visit, prison authorities stated that Gao was undergoing a “three-month education period,” and that family members would only be able to see him later if Gao “performed well” during this period. At the time, prison officials also claimed that Gao Zhisheng did not wish to see his family members, though CHRD highly doubts the veracity of this claim.

In early May 2012, CHRD learned from a reliable source that Gao Zhiyi had visited Beijing human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少), and that Geng He (耿和), Gao Zhisheng’s wife, had called Mo from the United States and requested he represent Gao in an appeal of his conviction. At this urging, Mo requested that Gao Zhiyi ask his brother during the family’s next visit to Sanya Prison whether Gao Zhisheng was willing to have Mo’s law firm represent him. Geng He’s father and Gao Zhiyi subsequently went to the prison—reportedly only the second visit family members have been able to make to see Gao in Sanya Prison—and relayed lawyer Mo’s question. In the presence of police, Gao Zhisheng reportedly said that he did not want any further involvement in his legal case, did not wish to file an appeal, and did not need a lawyer to represent him. CHRD feels that Gao’s refusing legal assistance is likely a reflection of pressure that he feels from authorities, and indicative of the intimidation that he has faced since being taken into custody nearly six years ago and during subsequent periods of disappearance.

Please do not hesitate to contact CHRD if you have any questions about our update to the urgent appeal regarding Mr. Gao Zhisheng.




Ms. Renee Xia, International Director
Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)

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