'I Can't Help Wishing It'

The U.S.-based wife of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng says her husband is still recovering from years of ill-treatment in detention.

Geng He at a congressional hearing in Washington, April 9, 2013.

Geng He, wife of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, escaped to the U.S. with her son and daughter in January 2009 following years of harassment and abuse by authorities linked to her husband's work defending persecuted groups in China. Former top rights lawyer Gao, 52, is currently under 24-hour surveillance by state security police at the home of Geng's parents in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, where he was released from a three-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power" in August. Geng told RFA's Mandarin Service in a recent interview about Gao's life outside jail:

It has been very cold lately, and he couldn't get out of bed. He told the family that he would have to work 14 hours a day when he was in jail. He said there was just a thin layer of cotton wadding on the bed, and his back was damaged [from sleeping on it].

He went to the dentist recently and had two teeth pulled, because the nerves were unbearably painful. After that, he bled for seven days straight, and the family got very worried about him and took him to the the emergency room. He nearly died over two extracted teeth. He daren't have any more of them pulled. They'll have to fall out by themselves.

Every morning a bunch of police officers would come and visit, and then not leave. In the afternoon, another bunch would come. They were getting in the way of the family's daily lives. One day, they tried to come into the family home, and Gao Zhisheng grabbed a chopping knife and said he'd fight them to the death if they tried to mess with the family's daily life again. He said he'd go back to jail. The police said it was their job to watch Gao Zhisheng. Since then, they haven't just walked into the family home whenever they felt like it.

His speech faculties have returned to a reasonable degree. He can communicate with the kids. There are still a lot of words he doesn't know how to write, but he's recovering slowly.

From speaking to him by phone, I got the impression that Gao's mood is very good. He is very confident and optimistic. He was in a terrible state when he had just got out.

'Didn't look human'

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 out that photos of Gao at that time would have been unbearable to look at. He didn't even look human any more.

He is really keen on reading right now. He never had time for reading when he was working as a lawyer, and he wasn't able to read during the eight or nine years that he was disappeared or locked up. To use his expression, he has a voracious appetite for books, and that's what he spends a lot of time doing right now.

When I spoke to him last, Gao told me that he insisted on refusing food on Jan. 9, regardless of whether he was 'disappeared' or in jail. When I heard this I felt so sad, because Jan. 9 was the day he was parted from the kids. He has remembered that day ever since.

I have given up hope [that we will one day be reunited as a family]. I am happy enough that I'm able to talk to him by phone. This is already a huge source of support to me. I daren't hope for anything more, although I can't help wishing it.

Reported by C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.