China ‘Disappeared’ And Tortured A Human Rights Attorney. His Advocates Want The US To Help Set Him Free
The U.S. must pressure China to disclose the status of a prominent human rights attorney who was “forcibly disappeared,” advocates told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
On August 13, 2017, agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) kidnapped Gao Zhisheng, an award-winning Chinese attorney for religious minorities, after subjecting the Nobel Peace Prize nominee to over a decade of imprisonment and torture, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. His advocates, including commissioner of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, president of the Christian nonprofit ChinaAid Pastor Bob Fu, and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Bremberg, told the DCNF that the U.S. government has a responsibility to confront China and determine if Gao is alive or dead.
“You can launch public campaigns to pressure businesses to reduce their business exposure to human rights abuses taking place in China from a consumer-led perspective, but I think what we’ve seen is that there’s very little fruit,” Bremberg told the DCNF. “What we really need is to get the U.S. government pushing in that direction.”
“Unless or until the U.S. government adopts a position or does something, it’s kind of the tail wagging the dog,” Bremberg added.
Nicknamed “China’s conscience,” Gao ran afoul of the CCP in 2004 by sending open letters to the Chinese government on behalf of practitioners of Falun Gong, a “spiritual practice” which the CCP designated as an “unlawful organization” in 1999, according to the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
For his legal advocacy, the CCP shut down Gao’s law firm in 2005, sentenced him to three years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” in 2006 and then forcibly disappeared the human rights attorney for the first time in 2007, according to CECC. Over the next decade, the CCP continued to torture Gao in increasingly brutal fashion, his advocates told the DCNF.
Yet, despite human rights activists’ best efforts, Gao’s whereabouts remain unknown because the U.S. government has allegedly failed to raise the human rights attorney’s case in meetings with China, advocates told the DCNF.
Pastor Fu told the DCNF that to his knowledge, President Joe Biden has never mentioned Gao’s name “in private or in public.” Moreover, despite “multiple bilateral summits” between the U.S. and China, not “a single prisoner of conscience’s name” has ever been raised.
“If you don’t raise people’s names in public or to your counterparts, if you don’t meet with dissident’s families in the U.S., how could you ever persuade Xi Jinping to release Gao Zhisheng or others?” Fu asked.
‘Great Personal Cost’
Gao “suffered like almost no one I could ever imagine has suffered anywhere,” Rep. Smith told the DCNF.
Gao sent an open letter critical of the then-upcoming 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 12, 2007, after having been granted a five-year parole, according to CECC.
A little over a week later, the authorities allegedly summoned the beleaguered attorney to a “re-education” meeting on Sept. 21, 2007, which Gao later recounted in an open letter entitled “Dark Night, Dark Hood And Kidnapping By Dark Mafia” made public in February 2009.
As Gao walked through the night to the “re-education” meeting “about six or seven strangers” suddenly appeared and he suffered “a strong blow to the back of my neck,” Gao’s 2009 letter states.
“Someone yanked my hair and a black hood was pulled over my head … I was brought to a vehicle and was put in … My belt was pulled off and then used to tie my hands behind my back … About 40 minutes later I was dragged out of the car. My pants were falling down around my knees and I was dragged into a room.”
“Your date of death has come,” one of Gao’s captors allegedly told him. “You will have to eat your own shit and drink your own piss.”
Over more than 50 days of torture, the CCP beat the human rights attorney with “electric shock prods” and used toothpicks to pierce Gao’s genitals, according to the 2009 letter.
“More horrible evils were committed than I told here,” the letter states. “Those evils were not even worthy of any historical records by any human governments.”
Throughout the next decade, the CCP inflicted both physical and psychological torture upon the human rights icon, causing all his teeth to rot out, yet Gao still refused to submit to the CCP, according to testimony provided by his wife, Geng He, during a 2016 CECC hearing on “China’s Pervasive Use of Torture.”
Events finally came to a head when the devout Christian published a 2017 memoir entitled “Unwavering Convictions: Gao Zhisheng’s Ten-Year Torture and Faith in China’s Future,” which was allegedly “smuggled out one page at a time” from his home, according to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece written by Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese attorney who also suffered years of CCP torment for his human rights work.
On August 13, 2017, Gao was forcibly disappeared from his home in Shaanxi province, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Gao’s “whereabouts and condition” remain unknown to this day. Since his 2017 disappearance, the Chinese government has never informed Gao’s family members — who are naturalized American citizens — if Gao is dead or alive, Pastor Fu told the DCNF.
No public security office in China has ever claimed responsibility for Gao’s disappearance, Fu said, despite the fact that the famed human rights attorney was under constant surveillance at the time he went missing.
When asked about Gao’s disappearance, the Chinese Embassy told the DCNF by email: “Unfortunately, we are not aware of the situation, so we do not have any information to offer.”
‘A Legal And Moral Obligation’
Although Gao has been missing for more than half a decade, it is possible that, if pressured, Washington might develop the political will to press the Chinese government on Gao’s status, advocates told the DCNF.
“When was the last time the president, vice president, national security adviser or deputy national security adviser or even their human rights director in the White House scheduled a meeting with any victims of persecution from China or their family members?” Pastor Fu asked.
Washington bears responsibility for failing to hold Beijing accountable for its human rights abuses in view of the fact that the U.S. granted China Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status uncoupled from Beijing’s human rights violations in 1994, advocates told the DCNF.
MFN trade status is granted by the U.S. government to a non-market based economy, such as communist China, in order to normalize trade relations and must be renewed each year, according to C-SPAN.
“On May 26, 1994, [Clinton] delinked them, and profits trumped everything from then on,” Rep. Smith told the DCNF. “That, to me, was where we lost China.”
However, Bremberg, who is now the president of The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told the DCNF that the “thesis of further economic integration that would lead to political liberalization has been proven wrong.”
“We have rewarded bad behavior from the Chinese government and they have unfortunately learned the ‘correct’ lesson that there are not consequences for their bad acts,” Bremberg said. “We have helped build the strength of a communist, truly totalitarian, regime.”
Thus, Washington now has a “legal and moral obligation” to press Beijing on its rampant human rights abuses and at least determine if Gao is “alive or not,” Fu told the DCNF.
“We really need further strong action from the Free World to pressure the CCP to produce at least some evidence about what has happened to Gao Zhisheng,” said Fu, who along with Bremberg and Smith have held multiple events championing Gao’s cause over the years.
For example, while Bremberg’s Victims of Communism and Fu’s ChinaAid co-hosted an event marking the 5th anniversary of Gao’s disappearance in September 2022, Smith has chaired CECC hearings during which Gao’s wife or daughter have testified.
“The American people need to be aware of, and demand, our policymakers hold China accountable for its human rights violation,” said Bremberg.
Yet, making the American people aware of Beijing’s abuses is difficult when the media fails to pay sufficient attention to Gao’s plight or “that of the other thousands of other human rights activists and political prisoners in China,” said Bremberg.
Rep. Smith gave the media an “F” when asked what grade they deserved for holding Beijing accountable and told the DCNF that even when the press occasionally covers China’s human rights abuses “it’s always in spurts and then they go back to sleep.”
Without sufficient media interest, “every effort needs to be directed at the U.S. government” in order to hold the CCP accountable, Bremberg told the DCNF.
Bremberg pointed to the adoption of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act as a good example of how the U.S. government can be motivated to hold the CCP accountable.
After the State Department recognized the ongoing Uyghur genocide in January 2021, human rights groups continued to raise “sustained public attention” which resulted in the December 2021 passage of the act, Bremberg said. The new law requires American companies to ensure that their supply chains are free from products created using Uyghur slave labor.
A similar approach could be used to spur the U.S. government to advocate on behalf of Chinese prisoners of conscience like Gao, advocates told the DCNF.
Bremberg, Smith and Fu all told the DCNF that it is critical for activists to raise “specific names” with the U.S. and Chinese governments.
Bremberg told the DCNF that while working as U.S. ambassador to the UN he would give “specific names to the Chinese, asking them to release specific individuals in the context of addressing their human rights abuses.”
Similarly, Smith said that he’d heard from Chinese dissidents that when Washington “kowtows” to Beijing, the CCP beats Chinese dissidents in prison worse, but when the U.S. is “tough, predictable and looks them in the eyes” and raises the names of specific imprisoned human rights activists they’ve received fewer beatings from prison guards because “there’s a way that people will find out and the CCP will then suffer from the exposure of what they’re doing in those prisons.”
A State Department spokesperson told the DCNF by email that Secretary of State Antony Blinken raises “the cases of political prisoners at every opportunity” and that the U.S. supports “brave individuals who seek to build a more just, stable and prosperous society.”
“The United States strongly condemns the PRC’s unjust detention of lawyer Gao Zhisheng,” the State Department spokesperson said. “We call on the PRC government to account for his whereabouts and cease its efforts to target journalists and lawyers and silence those who seek to report the truth and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms which undermines social stability and the rule of law.”
Gao’s 2009 letter, which detailed his first 50-day disappearance, closed by taking aim at those who appease the CCP.
“Finally, I want to say a few words which won’t be liked by some folks,” Gao’s 2009 letter states.
“I want to remind those so-called global ‘good friends,’ ‘good partners’ called by the CCP that the increasing degree of brutality and coldness against the Chinese people by the CCP is the direct result of appeasement by both you and us (our own Chinese people),” the letter reads.
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