UPDATED at 3:20am EST 12/19/2011.
The high-profile and galvanizing Chinese human rights figure Gao Zhisheng, held by Chinese security forces almost continually since late 2006, has been officially sentenced to prison for three years.
The announcement, carried by Communist Party mouthpiece Xinhua, is a rare acknowledgment of Gao’s existence by officials, who have repeatedly refused to answer a chorus of protest from the international community about the treatment and whereabouts of the now-renowned lawyer.
The three year term was originally handed down on Dec. 22, 2006, for “subversion,” after he wrote a series of letters to top Party leaders calling for an end to the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group, following a career spent defending marginalized groups that got the raw end of the stick in dealings with Chinese authorities.
The sentence was suspended for a five year probationary period, and those five years are going to end next month.
Now the regime is finding a way to cloak its continued persecution of Gao in a legal facade, according to Maran Turner, Executive Director of Freedom Now, a non-profit that works to free prisoners of conscience.
“They may have come under fire, so they had to come up with a way to say he’s not dead while keeping him in custody,” Turner said in a telephone interview. “They clearly don’t want to release him, and this maybe serves that purpose… It’s bizarre.”
The recent Xinhua statement claims that Gao violated the terms of his probation, and so would serve the original sentence.
But it is unclear which of the provisions he may have violated, or how he could possibly have done so.
Article 75 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China says that a criminal whose sentence is suspended must “observe laws and… submit to supervision; report on his own activities…; observe the regulations for receiving visitors…; report to obtain approval from the observing organ for any departure from the city or county he lives in…”
Bob Fu, executive director of ChinaAid, who runs the website FreeGao.com, said: “This is a totally unacceptable and laughable decision, because Gao has been in the custody of Chinese security forces for most of the past five years. How and when could he have committed any crime in violation of his so-called probation?”
Fu said the decision is “nothing more than persecution against a brave human rights lawyer who has already experienced so much torture and abuse.” He added: “The international community should demand Gao’s immediate release and President Obama should speak up loudly that this kind of heinous decision will not bring international respect for China.”
Gao has been in the near-constant custody of Chinese security forces since February 2009, and has been repeatedly denied visits by family. Chinese authorities have not disclosed his location. Before then, from his sentence in December 2006, he was in and out of the hands of Chinese security forces (but mostly in, according to Fu), frequently captured and held incommunicado for months before being released briefly, only to be kidnapped again.
In his 2006 memoir “A China More Just,” Gao Zhisheng says that the Communist Party uses “the most savage, most immoral, and most illegal means to torture our mothers, torture our wives, torture our children, and torture our brothers and sisters…” after he spent several months investigating the techniques of torture used by the Communist Party against adherents of Falun Gong.
Gao himself came to be on the receiving end of such torture after speaking out. At one stage during his detention in 2008, cigarettes were held to his eyes and toothpicks inserted into his genitals in a 54-day torture session he wrote about in an essay titled “Dark Night, Dark Hood And Kidnapping By Dark Mafia.”
Gao also renounced his membership in the Communist Party in December 2005, calling it an “inhumane, unjust, and evil Party.” He said renouncing the Party was the “proudest day of my life.”
Gao Zhisheng’s wife, Geng He, said in an interview with The Epoch Times that she was shocked and outraged at the three year sentence. She said: “We’ve called the regime so many times in the past three years, and their answer was always ‘We don’t know.’ Now they say he violated probation terms during suspended sentence. Since you didn’t know where he was, how could you know he violated the terms? Who is the one really violate law here? During the suspended sentence or probation, even us his family didn’t know where he is.”
Gao’s sister Gao Yanfang said that according to law, the sentence should be done during a court session, and family members should be informed. However, Gao’s family members in China haven’t received any notification from the regime or seen any proof of legal procedures. Her brother, Gao Zhiyi, felt the same way. “We must see him,” he said.