Fears For Safety of Detained Chinese Rights Lawyer 'Missing' Since The Weekend

2017-08-15
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Dissident rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is shown in a file photo.
Dissident rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is shown in a file photo.
AFP

Gao Zhisheng, who was under house arrest in the northern province of Shaanxi, hasn't been seen or heard of since Sunday, amid growing fears for his safety.

Dissident rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been under house arrest since his release from prison in August 2014, is "missing" from his cave dwelling in a remote village in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi.

Gao, 53, went missing from his home near Shaanxi's Yulin city, early on Sunday morning, his U.S.-based wife Geng He told RFA.

"We haven't been able to contact my husband for two days now, and we are very worried," Geng said. "I tried calling him at 5:00 a.m. my time on Sunday, and I couldn't get through."

"Eventually, I managed to get in touch with his older brother, who said he went to call him to eat at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. He said he called several times but there was no answer."

"He eventually went into the room, but there was nobody there," Geng said, adding that the local authorities are out looking for him.

"Police from the local village and from Yulin city are out scouring the hills and countryside for him, which makes me very worried," she said. "I am very scared."

'Emotional collapse'

Geng, who fled to the U.S. with the couple's two children after Gao's last "disappearance" in 2009, said the loss of contact with their father is having a profound impact on them.

"For the past three years, we have only managed sporadic phone calls with him, which at least were a form of reassurance for us as a family and for the kids," she said. "We had come to rely on them."

"Now that I know he has disappeared, I am in a state of emotional collapse."

A Xi'an-based friend of Gao's who asked not to be identified said none of his friends in the city had managed to contact him as of Tuesday afternoon.

"It's very mysterious what is going on this time," the friend said. "If he has been taken away by the state security police, his family should know about it. But suddenly, he's just not there any more."

"His family have no clue. We really don't know what is behind this disappearance," he said. "We shall just have to wait and see."

Links to interview

Gao, once a prominent lawyer feted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has been repeatedly denied permission by the Chinese police to see a dentist for treatment after losing several teeth to torture and neglect during his incarceration.

Social media posts suggested his disappearance might be linked to an interview Gao gave recently to Hong Kong's Chengming Magazine, in which he talks about "the destruction of the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping's mission."

Gao has also published a book detailing the torture he endured at the hands of the authorities during his time in prison, and has described being repeatedly tortured when he was secretly jailed at a "military site" during one of many disappearances.

Gao's memoir details the torture he endured at the hands of the authorities during his time in prison, as well as three years of solitary confinement, during which he said he was sustained by his Christian faith and his hope for China.

Activists say his continuing house arrest even after being "released" from jail mirrors the treatment meted out to fellow rights lawyers and activists detained in a nationwide police operation since July 2015.

His friends had previously said he is unlikely to regain any measure of freedom before the ruling Chinese Communist Party's 19th congress later this year.

Gao began to be targeted by the authorities after he defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Reported by Wang Yun for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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