China is on trial, free Gao Zhisheng: Cotler

March 3, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Gao Zhisheng at his office in Beijing in November 2005.  (Verna Yu/AFP/Getty Images)
Gao Zhisheng at his office in Beijing in November 2005. (Verna Yu/AFP/Getty Images)
OTTAWA—Liberal MP and former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler has pledged to pursue the release of prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng abducted by Chinese authorities last month.

The abduction on February 4 occurred within days of Mr. Gao’s disclosure of nearly two months of torture he suffered while in custody in 2007. His whereabouts remain unknown and supporters fear that he is again facing torture.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr. Irwin called Mr. Gao “a great—and courageous—hero of China, the rule of law, and the human rights community.”

“It is China itself that is on trial, and his case is a litmus test really of whether China is going to adhere to the rule of law, or whether it is going to abduct, detain, beat, and torture those who do,” Mr. Irwin told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Gao, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is regarded as “China’s conscience” for his defence of oppressed groups in China, including Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, workers, minority groups, and others.

Following three open letters to communist party leaders in 2004 and 2005 calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong, the regime removed Mr. Gao’s licence to practise law.

State persecution against him followed, including an attempt on his life, repeated abductions and torture, and attacks against his wife and 14-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

In 2006, international pressure appeared to have led to a suspended sentence for five years after he was sentenced to three years in prison.

However, in September 2007 he was again abducted after writing an open letter to the U.S. Congress denouncing the state of human rights in China.

In his account, written in November 2007 and authorized to be released on February 9, 2009, Mr. Gao told of being shocked with electric batons all over his body, including in the mouth and on his genitals. The torturers also used toothpicks to pierce his genitals.

Mr. Gao is a person of “singular courage and bravery” whom China should honour, said Mr. Cotler.

“If it wants to be respected as a serious player in the international community then it has to adhere to the rule of law, it has to protect human rights and not violate them, it has to respect people like Mr. Gao, and not imprison and torture them.”

The Canadian government should raise this case and similar cases with China, and human rights and trade must be promoted at the same time, said Mr. Cotler.

“I think you either have both or you have neither,” he said.

“We take all of these issues very seriously,” said International Trade Minister Stockwell Day.

Mr. Day is planning a trade mission to China this year.

“We will be petitioning Chinese authorities under the Chinese legal system—and exercising international human rights law and remedies—to bring about [Mr. Gao’s] release with all deliberate speed,” said Mr. Cotler in his statement.

“We serve notice today on the Chinese government that the ends of justice will be pursued until this great hero of China is freed.”

Correction: A statement in a previously posted version of this story misattributed a comment to Mr. Day about his party's efforts to balance trade and human rights in its relations with China.