Award-winning human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was released by authorities from the ruling Chinese communist regime Feb. 3 after his disappearance two weeks ago. According to the Associated Press, Human Rights Watch said he was released due to pressure on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by Western diplomats.
According to Sarah Cook, Asia researcher with human rights group Freedom House, although he may still be under close monitoring by the CCP, it’s good “knowing that he’s not in a dungeon somewhere being tortured.”
“The last time he was detained towards the end of 2007, apparently he was tortured very badly,” said Cook.
Lawyer Gao was banned by the CCP from practicing law in 2005 due to his speaking out against human rights abuses in China. In September 2007 he was detained for several weeks by CCP authorities after sending an open letter to the U.S. Congress denouncing the human rights abuses in China and telling of the ill-treatment that he and his family regularly face by CCP security forces. He was subjected to torture during his detention.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch “Gao detailed his illegal detention in 2007 as well as severe and sustained torture at the hands of security agents—including violent beatings, repeated electric shocks to his genitals, and having lit cigarettes held close to his eyes over a prolonged period, which left him partially blind for days afterwards. After he was released, acquaintances described him as seeming to be ‘a broken man,’ both physically and spiritually.”
Although details of his release are still vague, on Feb.2 Human Rights Watch released a report stating that the CCP should immediately disclose his whereabouts. A joint letter was also issued Tuesday by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International calling for his release.
Gao was awarded the Courageous Advocacy Award by the American Board of Trial Advocates when he was still in detention in 2007. He is among the few lawyers who dares to speak out against the human rights abuses of the CCP. Among his famous cases are his representing the families of miners killed in a 2004 coal mine explosion and his standing up for those who practice Falun Gong, a Chinese mediation practice that has been persecuted by the CCP since 1999.
According to Cook, it is still unclear what the cause of his most recent detainment was, yet his release, if it is true, stands as a reminder of what can be done when the international community pressures the CCP for human rights.
“My sense and observations have been that the human rights society speaking out and civil society groups speaking out plays a role when their voices are joined by the diplomatic community—it has all that much more authority and power that comes to bear on the Chinese authorities,” she said.