At a United States Postal Service branch in San Francisco, a mother picked out three large express mail envelopes, enclosed criminal complaint documents by her two children and herself, and addressed them to China’s highest judicial and prosecuting body in Beijing.
On July 6, Geng He, her daughter Geng Ge, and her son Gao Tianyu took legal action against ex-Party boss Jiang Zemin for persecuting Gao Zhisheng—husband, father, and prominent Chinese rights lawyer—and the persecuted Chinese citizens he was trying to aid.
“My husband Gao Zhisheng was heinously tortured by the police, who administered electric shocks, blew cigarette smoke at him, inserted toothpicks into his genitals, clubbed him with a pistol, etc. The cigarette smoke caused his eyes to swell, and his skin was totally bruised from the electric shocks,” wrote Geng in her letter of complaint to the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
When Gao was released from detention last August, the state of his health—loose and missing teeth, memory and speech loss—simply “broke everyone’s heart,” Geng added.
Born in the countryside of Shaanxi Province in northwest China in 1964, a young Gao Zhisheng decided to study law in 1991 after learning that China planned to add 150,000 lawyers to its legal system over the next decade.
Gao, who once worked variously as a coal miner, soldier, and vegetable seller, passed the bar exam in 1995, and soon started to make a name for himself defending China’s disenfranchised.
Once recognized by the justice ministry as one of the nation’s top ten attorneys, Gao started to attract disapproval from the Chinese authorities in 2004, after he provided legal assistance to practitioners of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, a qigong spiritual discipline based on traditional Chinese values, was targeted for brutal suppression by Party general secretary Jiang Zemin in July 1999. According to Falun Gong information website Minghui, over 3,800 practitioners have perished from the persecution, which is now into its 16th year, and hundreds of thousands more are still being abused and tortured in detention facilities. Independent researchers say that the organs of Falun Gong practitioners are being harvested and sold for profit.
While several rights lawyers have in recent years defended Falun Gong practitioners in court, this wasn’t the case in the early days of the persecution. The Cultural Revolution-style suppression of Falun Gong made the faith too taboo, and many attorneys refused to help adherents because they feared for their own lives and livelihood.
Gao Zhisheng was one of very few who stood up for Falun Gong, providing legal assistance when he could. Gao even petitioned top regime leaders in Zhongnanhai to end the persecution, and, for good measure, renounced his ties to the Communist Party in 2005. The following year, public security agents whisked Gao away, and he went in and out of detention for long stretches of time until 2014.
Gao’s family wasn’t arrested, but they were placed under virtual house arrest and subjected to tight surveillance—only the police could answer their door and visitors had their identities recorded; a young Geng Ge (Gao’s daughter) was ushered to school by a detail of five to six policemen, and computer classes were canceled to prevent her from communicating with the outside world; four policemen brought a three-year-old Gao Tianyu to preschool and kept him isolated from other preschoolers.
In 2009, Gao’s wife Geng He and her two children eventually escaped from China, making their way to California after passing through Thailand. Geng He has since been closely tracking news about her husband’s whereabouts and physical condition, and has called on the United States government several times to publicly take up the issue with the Chinese regime.
While Gao is no longer confined to a prison cell, he remains under house arrest, and is still recuperating from the abuse he suffered in prison. He is allowed to communicate with his family by telephone.
Over 43,000 people from mainland China and abroad have filed criminal complaints against Jiang Zemin, and owing to a recent reform, China’s legal system has already accepted thousands of the suits.
“Jiang Zemin has committed an unforgivable crime. When he goes to trial, conscience and justice will prevail, and fear will be vanquished,” Geng He told Epoch Times.
Jiang’s downfall will also allow Gao Zhisheng to “finally receive his true freedom, and the family will be reunited,” she said.
With reporting by Liang Bo