HONG KONG—Overseas rights groups have launched a campaign calling on Chinese authorities to make public the whereabouts of top civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, whose family is seeking political asylum in the United States.
"We haven't had any news of Gao since his kidnapping on Feb. 4," a Beijing-based friend of Gao's said. "[We] are really very worried about him. His health isn't very good, and we are afraid for his life if he has to suffer further mistreatment."
He said a group of Gao's friends had got together Friday and gone to the Beijing home of the lawyer, whose business license was taken away after he wrote open letters criticizing the government's crackdown on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The apartment windows remained dark after nightfall, he said.
Call for family contact
"We would like the authorities to allow Gao to speak to his wife, so that we can find out a bit more about how he is, and about his state of health," Gao's friend said.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International called on Chinese authorities to make public Gao's location and to show that he was not being subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
Amnesty International Hong Kong’s East Asia Team researcher, Si-si Liu, said the organization was concerned. "Gao Zhisheng has been tortured in the past, and we are worried that this may be some form of retaliation brought on by the fact that his family recently left China," she said.
Gao’s wife Geng He, together with the couple's daughter, Geng Ge, 15, and son, Gao Tianyu, 5, had suffered “great hardship” in China from living under virtual house arrest in their Beijing home, Geng said on arrival in the U.S.
In an interview, she said the family had been under tight surveillance and that her daughter had been unable to go to school.
Geng said she was concerned that Gao had not been given his medicine for a long time and was fearful that torture would make his condition worse. She said he was also likely unaware of his family's current situation.
But Geng remained hopeful that strong support for Gao voiced from outside of China would work to his advantage.
Amnesty's Liu called on Chinese authorities to guarantee Gao's rights. "For example letting his family know where he is being held, and guaranteeing that he isn't being tortured or otherwise mistreated," she said.
The U.S.-based Christian China Aid group launched an online petition calling for Gao's release.
"China Aid, together with the Gao family, urge the international community to take action on behalf of Gao Zhisheng by signing a petition to the Chinese government for his release at www.FreeGao.com," the group said in a statement on its Web site.
China Aid president Bob Fu called Gao’s torture "the most severe persecution in China’s modern history."
And in Hong Kong, a group supporting lawyers in China working to defend civil rights through the judicial system called for further support for its rolling hunger strike and yellow ribbon campaign for Gao's release, begun two weeks ago.
"Until now, no one has seen Gao with their own eyes, so we are really worried about him," said Patrick Poon Ka-wai, secretary of the China Human Rights Lawyers' Concern Group.
"We are calling on more people to take part in our campaign, including Bob Fu's signature campaign in the United States, to make more people aware of Gao's situation," Poon said, adding that the group had garnered some support from people living in mainland China.
"We hope that more will join us, and also that the authorities will not take retaliatory action against them for their involvement," Poon said.
Gao’s whereabouts remained unclear for months after he was subjected to a secret trial by the authorities on unspecified subversion charges in 2006.
Lauded by China’s own Justice Ministry as one of China’s Top 10 lawyers in 2001 for his pro bono work in helping poor people sue government officials over corruption and mistreatment, Gao was once a member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. He resigned from the Party in 2005.
Gao’s fortunes took a sharp downturn after he wrote an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in October 2005 urging them to end the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, detailing a range of abuses they suffer in custody, including torture, beatings, and execution.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Gar Lai See. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.