A Lawyer Struggles for Human Rights – Even His Own
“Since Nov. 20, groups of 3 plain cloth policemen have been taking turns in watching my apartment and my office. On the second day they were here, my wife's bike, which she used take my kid to and from school curiously disappeared from the garage—while nothing happened to the 90 some other bikes parked there. Last night, over 20 plain cloth police were stationed outside my doorstep …”
This is what the lawyer Gao Zhisheng wrote in an open letter on Nov. 22.
When the Chinese authorities suspended the license of human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng's law firm for an entire year on Nov. 4, they might have expected some relief from his human rights lawsuits, which had brought shocking government atrocities into the public light.
Instead, Gao's case became a popular rallying point for rule of law and religious freedom in China. Within days, his story has spread throughout China by Internet and made headlines in other countries, galvanizing widespread support for his legal advocacy.
Outside of China, human rights attorneys, law professors and U.N. special rapporteurs from 11 countries signed on to a petition letter dated Nov. 11 to China's Minister of Justice. Drafted by attorney Terri Marsh of the Human Rights Law Projects and attorney Lana Han of the International Advocates for Justice, the letter expresses concern about China's violation of due process rights in suspending the license of Gao's law firm and urged for its restoration.
“The Bureau's decision to shut down the law firm of Gao Zhisheng places at risk not only the ten lawyers in his firm, all other human rights lawyers in China, the independence of lawyers, judges and the judicial branch, but also the emergence of a genuine rule of law in China today,” the letter read.
Even more support for Gao poured in from all over China. In a public letter posted online to his supporters, Gao expressed deep gratitude for the dozens of sympathetic phone calls, text messages, and letters that he and his wife were receiving everyday. Many such calls came from ordinary citizens, but some came from surprising sources like police stations and offices of the Chinese government officials who privately sympathized with Gao's dogged pursuit of justice for his clients.
Rated as one of the country's top ten lawyers by China's Ministry of Justice in 2001, Gao devoted his career to representing political dissidents, religious activists, and ordinary citizens with civil rights grievances. His clients included Taishi village residents in Guangdong Province, whose land disputes with local officials received national attention, “underground” Christian pastors like Cai Zhuohua convicted of distributing Bibles, and persecuted Falun Gong adherents whose rights he has actively campaigned for.
What finally drew Beijing's ire was an open letter Gao wrote to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on Oct. 18, calling on China to end the six-year persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice and respect its own laws.
The Chinese officials told Gao that his license was officially revoked because he failed to notify the government of the address change after moving his law firm to a new office. Gao said he tried to register the new address but to no avail, as the authorities refused to have anything to do with his application.
Despite this setback, Gao vowed to continue fighting for justice and advocating for the rights of ordinary citizens.
“I'll engage in struggle on all fronts and fight to the end,” he said.