BEIJING—Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been out of contact for three days since voicing support for a fellow activist who was sentenced to prison last week, his wife said Wednesday, Dec. 2.
Gao, a lawyer who defended practitioners of Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual discipline, has been under tight surveillance since his release from jail in the summer of 2014. His latest disappearance could indicate he is being punished for again speaking out.
A police officer in the Shaanxi province village where Gao lives hung up the telephone the moment his name was mentioned. Subsequent calls rang unanswered.
Gao’s wife Geng He, who lives in the United States, said her daily contact with Gao was severed on Nov. 30, and that later calls resulted in a message that his number no longer existed.
Gao’s elderly brother, Gao Zhiyi, hung up after a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press on Wednesday, saying: “We cannot say anything.”
In an online article dated Saturday, Nov. 28, Gao praised fellow activist Yang Maodong for his courage against the authorities and his peaceful stance to bring about changes to China.
Gao called Yang, better known by his penname Guo Feixiong, a “close friend” and said Yang’s closing statement before a court to defend his innocence last week was “epic.”
Yang was jailed for his activism, including his efforts to organize a rally for press freedom outside the newspaper Southern Weekly in January 2013, when journalists complained of censorship.
In the article carried by several overseas Chinese-language news sites, Gao criticized Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and called on more people to join the peaceful fight against the authoritarian state.
Geng said she believed Gao’s latest article was the reason for his disappearance.
“When I read the article, I said, ‘oh, it’s for this reason,'” Geng said.
Once praised as “China’s conscience” and rated as one of China’s top ten lawyers by the communist regime’s justice ministry, Gao Zhisheng has been under some form of detention for most of the last decade, during which time he suffered brutal torture and abuse at the hands of public security officers.
Gao, who made his name defending disenfranchised individuals and groups across China, drew the authorities’ attention after he provided legal advice to Falun Gong practitioners in 2005. Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese self-cultivation practice, has been suppressed by the Chinese regime on orders of former Party leader Jiang Zemin since July 20, 1999.
Chinese police eventually arrested Gao after keeping him and his family under tight surveillance for about a year. They would subject Gao to the same abuses they inflicted on Falun Gong adherents—toothpicks were inserted into his genitals, police officers would hit him until they collapsed to the floor in exhaustion, and several of Gao’s teeth were knocked loose.
Yet Gao says he doesn’t begrudge his torturers or the hardships he faced, and currently only wishes that he can get his damaged teeth fixed and take a hot shower at a nearby town, views he expressed in a 10 minute video interview that was uploaded to Youtube.com in September.
“One man’s inner strength is unlimited and supported by his perseverance and will not allow him to be brought down,” Gao said in the interview.