The family of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, along with his many admirers and supporters around the world, are anxiously looking forward to Aug. 7. Gao’s prison term is due to end that day.
In an interview with Epoch Times, Gao’s wife Geng He called for her husband’s release on Aug. 7. “That day he must be released and reunited with his family. Then he will decide where he is heading next,” said Geng He.
A self-taught lawyer, Gao first came to prominence when he began defending disabled children without accepting a fee—pro bono legal work is not common in China.
Having grown up in severe poverty, Gao had an affinity for the underdog. He defended, unsuccessfully, those whose homes or farms had been taken from them by officials working in league with developers. He also defended Christians who suffered persecution.
In 2001 Gao was named by the Ministry of Justice as one of China’s 10 Best Lawyers. More popularly, Gao was given the nickname the “conscience of China.”
In December 2004, Gao’s advocacy went a step beyond what the Chinese Communist Party could tolerate. He wrote a letter to the National People’s Congress asking for relief for a Falun Gong practitioner named Huang Wei, who had been sentenced to a labor camp because of his beliefs.
In October and December 2005 Gao published other open letters to the Party’s leadership calling for an end to the persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong.
Gao’s open challenge was immediately answered. In the autumn of 2005, security officials put Gao and his family under 24-hour surveillance. In November 2005, his law office was closed. There were abductions, threats, and a possible assassination attempt.
On Aug. 15, 2006 Gao was abducted by police and detained, and in December he was officially found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power.” Sentenced to five years probation and house arrest, Gao was frequently abducted and detained.
Detained, Gao suffered torture. When he got the chance, Gao exposed it. An open letter released by him in 2009 described 50 days of torture he suffered in 2007. He was shocked for days with electric batons, including on his genitals, cigarette smoke was blown into his eyes until they swelled shut, and skewers inserted into his genitals.
As punishment for his speaking out, Gao was again tortured in a session he would later say was worse than what he endured in 2007. He experienced his life “hanging by a thread.”
In August 2011, Gao’s five-year sentence was due to end. The regime, though, declared Gao had violated his probation and sentenced him to three years in remote Shaya Prison in far-western Xinjiang Province.
A Family’s Ordeal
Throughout Gao’s ordeal, his family has also suffered. In her recent interview with Epoch Times, Gao’s wife Geng He hinted at the pressure the family was under.
She tried calling Gao’s younger brother to ask about Gao’s upcoming release, but could not reach him. On calling Gao’s older brother, she was told there was huge pressure on the younger brother’s family and so he could not answer Geng He’s call.
Geng He knows intimately the pressure the regime can exert. She and her two children escaped that pressure by fleeing China and making their way to New York in March 2009.
At a press conference upon arriving in New York, she described her family’s suffering: “The one-story unit at the apartment building was guarded by the police round the clock. There were also police in my apartment. Every single movement of ours was under their surveillance, including using the toilet and the bathroom.
“When we went to bed, the police would sit next to us, and we weren’t allowed to switch off the lights. The children were unable to sleep even when they were sleepy.”
“They banned my daughter from school, and she tried to commit suicide because of this,” Geng He said. “When I found this out, I totally collapsed. I decided to run for the sake of the kids.”
In the United States, Gao’s daughter overcame her despair, became a straight “A” student, and went to college.
Wenjing Ma is the director of a film about Gao called “Transcending Fear: the Gao Zhisheng Story.” Ma related in an interview with Epoch Times how she had once asked Geng He if she ever regretted the course Gao took? After all, if Gao had not devoted himself to human rights, she and her family would have enjoyed a comfortable, upper-class life in Beijing.
“Geng He immediately said, ‘I have no regrets because anyone would have acted this way,'” Ma said. “This shows how kind her heart is. She felt that what Gao did was something that had to be done.”
“Only with this kind of family could Gao be such a great person,” Ma said. “His wife is a great person too.”
“As one man facing a persecution machine, he was crushed again and again, but whenever he had a chance, he would stand up again and do the right thing again,” Ma said. “That is very, very moving to me.”
“He was targeted by the CCP because he was the first one who spoke out so loudly for Falun Gong,” Ma said. “At that time, almost no one dared to do that. He was used as an example to try to deter anyone from doing that.
“Many people, instead of being deterred, they were encouraged by Gao’s example and spoke out for Falun Gong. Dozens of lawyers began defending practitioners. That was unimaginable before.”
Since being arrested Gao Zhisheng has received support from U.S. congressmen, parliamentarians from the EU, Canada, and other nations, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, Falun Gong practitioners, and various Christian groups.
Gao has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, and was awarded a prize for international human rights by the American Bar Association. At least 150,000 people have signed a petition calling for his release.
Now that his release is imminent, the question looms for his family and supporters as to what’s next.
In her interview with Epoch Times, Geng He stressed more than once her hope that Gao should “choose where he should go, rather than the authorities and police determine where he should go.”
Heng He, an expert on China’s politics who writes regularly for Epoch Times, points to the case of the AIDS activist Hu Jia. Hu was promptly released from prison when his term ended, but then put under house arrest.
Heng He would not be surprised if the same fate awaits Gao.
“It was wrong to put Gao Zhisheng in jail,” Heng He said. “He simply pointed out that the persecution of Falun Gong was wrong.”
“In the past year, one Party leader after another responsible for this persecution has been purged, but the Party hasn’t changed its policy. Until the Party does so, Gao’s case will not really be closed.”
Additional reporting by He Yi