(Updated 28 March 2015)
CASE CLOSED! Group 22 was notified on March 18 that Amnesty International had closed their case file for our adopted prisoner of conscience Gao Zhisheng. Amnesty believes that further public campaigning for Gao would have little impact and might even be counter-productive. Amnesty made the decision to close Gao's case in consultation with his family.

Geng He (Gao Zhisheng's wife) sent Amnesty the following message: "Thank you very much to Amnesty International for its concern for Gao Zhisheng's case in the past few years. Gao Zhisheng's ability to leave prison alive and to go home was inextricably linked to Amnesty International's concern - it was your practical actions that brought hope and encouragement to human rights activists who have suffered gravely in prisons and their family members. Your help and support will bring glory to human rights work. Once again we thank you for your help and support!"

Prisoner of Conscience Gao Zhisheng 高智晟

In March 2010, Group 22 began to work 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. When he was released from prison, he was suffering from many physical and mental problems resulting from the abuse he endured. As of March 2015, he is still under virtual house arrest at the home of his wife's family in Urumqi, but his health is gradually improving.

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 hours.

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. In an 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."

On 9 Feb. 2015, Radio Free Asia published an interview with Geng He with recent news about her husband Gao Zhisheng. (Geng He escaped to the U.S. in 2009 with their daughter and son.)
"When he got out of prison, I asked my sister to send me some photos of Gao Zhisheng, but she never did, and I was mad at her about that. Later, I found that photos of Gao at that time would have been unbearable to look at. He didn't even look human any more."
She reported that his health has now improved, although he still has very serious problems with his teeth. He is able to speak coherently and spends a lot of time reading. She is happy to be able to talk to him by phone, which is a huge source of support for her. "I daren't hope for anything more, although I can't help wishing it."

Keep Up with Gao Zhisheng

  • Follow the latest news about Gao Zhisheng on
    Facebook and Twitter.

  • Send a note of encouragement to Geng He. Her mailing address is Geng He, P.O. Box 2697, Santa Clara, CA 95055, USA

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.
Freedom Now. Click on the Campaigns tab to see their Gao Zhisheng page.
Amnesty International 2013 Annual Report (China)
AIUSA China Country Page
CIA Factbook for China
US State Dept Report (2013) Human Rights, China

Return to AI Group 22 Home Page