Amidst international criticism, the Chinese regime has charged prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng with inciting subversion.
Gao was arrested on Aug. 15 during a family visit to Shandong. But it was only on Oct. 12 that his attorney, Mo Shaoping, was notified of the prosecutors' decision to charge Gao with “inciting subversion of state power.”
“In fact, it should be the public security bureau that notifies us. But I asked them repeatedly and got no reply, and only then went to the prosecutors,” Mo told Reuters. According to Mo, those charged with inciting subversion can face years in prison.
News of the charges against Gao comes after weeks of silence following his arrest. Mo has been repeatedly denied access to his client, and it was only on Sept. 21 that Gao's wife received official notification of the arrest.
Dubbed by supporters as the “conscience of China,” over the last year Gao has developed an international reputation for his fearless criticism of the Chinese communist regime. He had written open letters to Chinese leaders calling for religious freedom and had represented Falun Gong practitioners, members of underground churches, and victims of forced evictions. In December 2005, he also publicly renounced his membership in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Gao's arrest in August came after months of official harassment and as part of a broader CCP crackdown on lawyers and activists. Several human rights attorneys have recently been sentenced to prison or placed under house arrest.
The regime's measures against Gao and others have sparked international criticism, including doubts about whether Beijing is fit to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
“The Beijing regime is brutal, paranoid, and arbitrary,” said Edward McMillan-Scott, a European Parliament vice president, in a recent press release. McMillan-Scott had met dissidents and former prisoners during a trip to China earlier this year and later spoke to Gao by phone.
“Gao Zhisheng is a courageous activist who deserves the world's respect for the stand he has taken on behalf of the regime's innocent victims,” he said. “This arrest puts a massive question mark [over] the Beijing Olympics.”
The international human rights community has added its voice, with two U.S-based organizations publishing open letters to the Communist Party leadership urging Gao's immediate release.
“All Mr. Gao's activities were peaceful and legal,” said a letter sponsored by Human Rights Watch and signed by American, European, and Australian academics and activists.
As long as those whom the regime perceives as threatening continue to be persecuted with impunity, the letter said, the international community “will remain deeply skeptical about China's commitment to reform, to transparency, and to the rule of law.”
Attorneys from around the world have sent Beijing a letter of their own protesting Gao's arrest. Terri Marsh, executive director of the Human Rights Law Foundation, which sponsored the letter, said “Gao is a noble man who has the courage to risk his life to use the law to defend not the CCP but moral principle.”
“The CCP is afraid of Gao Zhisheng because he is not afraid of them,” she said.