A week after authorities in China released prominent dissident Gao Zhisheng, his wife says he has been severely tortured in jail to a point where a human rights group believes he has been “utterly destroyed.”
"I am completely devastated by what the Chinese government has done to my husband,” U.S.-based Geng He said after speaking with him and hearing from her family about Gao's “immense suffering” following his release from a prison in the remote Xinjiang region on Aug. 7.
“The only thing I feared more than him being killed was his suffering relentless and horrific torture and being kept alive,” she said, according to a statement by Freedom Now, a Washington-based group which advocates for prisoners of conscience, including Gao.
Freedom Now said the 52-year-old Gao, who is now staying with his wife's sister in China’s western Xinjiang region, under a round-the-clock watch by Chinese security officials, “has been utterly destroyed.”
“He can barely talk—and only in very short sentences—most of the time he mutters and is unintelligible,” it said. “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.”
Gao’s international lawyer Jared Genser said he was “heartbroken” for Geng He and her two children who fled to the United States in 2009.
“We knew that if Gao wasn’t killed, he would have suffered immensely. But the situation is far worse than my limited imagination enabled me to contemplate.”
Once a prominent lawyer lauded by China's ruling Communist Party, Gao fell afoul of the government after he defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
He has spent most of the last decade repeatedly disappearing into secret jails and undergoing torture.
Since his release from the Xinjiang prison, the family has learned some terrible details about how he was treated in prison, Freedom Now said.
From the time of his reappearance in Shaya prison in December 2011, Gao was held in a small cell, with minimal light and guards were strictly instructed not to speak with him, the rights group said.
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), Freedom House said.
Gao has lost many teeth from malnutrition, it said.
It is believed he was also “repeatedly physically tortured.”
“Unfortunately, it is hard to get much more than basic information from him.”
The United States had raised Gao's case publicly and privately with Chinese officials at the top level and would continue to do so, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Thursday.
"We urge Chinese authorities not to impose any restrictions on his movement so he can be able to travel freely and be reunited with his family,” she said.
Geng He, who lives in California, said she and her children had been “lucky to have had the protection of the United States since they arrived” in the country in March 2009.
“We desperately need help from our adopted country and from President [Barack] Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry personally to demand the Chinese government to allow my husband to come to the United States for medical treatment.”
“If President Xi Jinping has any sense of decency or humanity, after crushing my husband both physically and psychologically, the least he could do is allow me as a devoted wife to care for him."
Genser said that while China was a great power in the 21st century, “the inhumanity and brutality that it has demonstrated by the torture of Gao Zhisheng shows its profound insecurity and fear of anyone in its population who stands up to its repression."