(Updated 2 October 2014)
China released Gao Zhisheng from Shaya Prison on August 7, but he is not free. He is essentially under house arrest in the home of his wife's sister in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Police harass him daily, and he is not permitted to obtain the medical and dental treatment that he desperately needs after five years of torture and ill-treatment.
Prisoner of Conscience Gao Zhisheng 高智晟
Group 22 has been working since March 2010 on the case of
human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (pronounced Gow Jir-sheng). He was detained in
February 2009 in Shaanxi Province, China. Except for a few weeks in 2010, his whereabouts were unknown
for nearly three years. He was brutally tortured during his enforced disappearance and while he served a sentence in remote Shaya Prison from January 2012 until August 2014.
Gao Zhisheng passed his bar exam in 1995 and went on to
represent many victims of human rights violations. China's Ministry of Justice
named him one of the top ten lawyers of 2001. He began to defend members of the
spiritual group Falun Gong in 2005 and to write open letters calling for
religious freedom. The government revoked his law license in November
2005. About a year later a secret
court trial for "inciting subversion of the state" resulted in a suspended prison
sentence of three years. He and his family then endured several years of
constant police harassment while he was under house arrest.
Gao Zhisheng said he was subjected to torture while in
pre-trial detention in 2006. In September 2007 he was taken from his home by
plainclothes police and held incommunicado for six weeks, during which he
endured violent beatings and electric shocks to his genitals. He also suffered days
of partial blindness due to lit cigarettes held close to his eyes for
In February 2009, shortly after his wife and children fled
China, Gao Zhisheng was taken away by security agents and disappeared
completely. International pressure for information about him elicited confusing
answers from Chinese officials, claiming first that he had gone missing and
then that he "was where he was supposed to be".
On March 31, 2010, he suddenly reappeared in northern China.
During his brief contacts with the outside world, he said that he was giving up
activism and now wished only to be reunited with his family. But only a few
weeks later, before his wish could be realized, he again disappeared, reportedly
into police custody.
For the next 20 months, enquiries from his family and friends met with no
answers from Chinese authorities.
April 2010 interview
with Associated Press which was released in January 2011, Gao Zhisheng said
that the torture during the year of his secret detention was worse than
anything he had previously experienced.
On December 16, 2011, China's official news agency announced that Gao Zhisheng would begin serving
a three-year prison sentence because he had violated the terms of his probation. Nothing was said about his whereabouts. On January 1, 2012, Gao Zhisheng's brother received official notice of Gao's arrival
at Shaya Prison in the remote western province of Xinjiang. The brother and other family members
made the 2000-mile journey to Shaya Prison as soon as they could make travel arrangements, but were turned away and told that Gao could not yet have visitors. Gao's family were anxious and upset, wondering whether he was even alive.
Finally on March 24, 2012, Gao's brother and father-in-law were permitted a closely supervised 30-minute visit with Gao. They reported to Gao's wife and other family members that Gao appeared okay, although pale.
Gao's family and lawyers were permitted no further contact with him until January 12 of 2013, when his father-in-law and his younger brother were allowed a brief visit. They were warned not to discuss his case or prison conditions or the visit would be ended immediately. They reported that he seemed alert and walked without assistance.
His case was featured in Amnesty's December 2012 Write-a-thon -- our cards and letters may have helped persuade the authorities to grant permission for the second family visit. No further contact was permitted until his release on August 7, 2014.
[Jared Genser, Freedom Now, 13 August 2014]
"Since his release, the family has now learned some terrible details about how he was treated in prison. From the time of his reappearance in Shaya prison in December 2011, Gao was held in a small cell, with minimal light, 24-7-365. Guards were strictly instructed not to speak with him. He was not allowed any reading materials, television, or access to anyone or anything. He was fed a single slice of bread and piece of cabbage, once a day; as a result, he has lost roughly 22.5 kg (50 pounds) and now weighs about 59 kg (130 pounds). He has lost many teeth from malnutrition. It is believed he was also repeatedly physically tortured. Unfortunately, it is hard to get much more than basic information from him. Gao has been utterly destroyed. He can barely talk -- and only in very short sentences -- most of the time he mutters and is unintelligible. It is believed he is now suffering from a broad range of physical and mental health problems; he has not been allowed to see a doctor since his release."
Actions That You Can Take
- Write to authorities in China. Request that Gao Zhisheng be permitted access to the medical and dental care he needs. Here are updated guidelines and addresses
from the Amnesty International Case Dossier on Gao Zhisheng.
- Check the current Group 22 newsletter
for actions in behalf of Gao Zhisheng.
Ask President Obama to urge China to allow Gao Zhisheng to get the medical treatment he needs and to consider granting him the freedom to be reunited with his wife and children.
Submit comments to the White House
You can also use these phone numbers for President Obama:
Comments: 202-456-1111; Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Letters to President Obama can be addressed to
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Follow the latest news about Gao Zhisheng on
More About Gao Zhisheng
Rights Readers blog:
Gao Zhisheng is the author of A China More Just, published in 2007.
Scroll to the
bottom of the page to see a current news search window for Gao Zhisheng.
CECC (Congressional-Executive Commission on China) Hearing on Gao Zhisheng.
This Feb 2012 hearing included testimony from Geng He (Gao's wife), Bob Fu of ChinaAid, and Jared Genser of Freedom Now. Scroll down to the recorded live webcast.
Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2014
Interview with Geng He, Gao's wife.
"In China, Leaving Prison Does Not Mean Freedom"
Transcending Fear: The Story of Gao Zhisheng
Watch the trailer for this film, read an essay by the director, rent or buy the 90-minute film.
More About Human Rights in China
China Aid. You can type Gao Zhisheng into the Search Box.
Click on the Campaigns tab to see their Gao Zhisheng page.
Amnesty International 2013
Annual Report (China)
China Country Page
Factbook for China
US State Dept Report (2013) Human Rights, China
Group 22 Home Page