New Campaign For Missing Lawyer

The family of a missing rights activist calls for increased pressure on the Chinese government.
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Gao Zhisheng during an interview at his office in Beijing, Nov. 2, 2005.
Gao Zhisheng during an interview at his office in Beijing, Nov. 2, 2005.

HONG KONG—The daughter of missing Chinese civil rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has called directly on President Obama to put pressure on Beijing to reveal more information about her father during forthcoming talks.

Grace Geng, 17, who now lives in the United States with her mother and brother, said in an open letter to the president ahead of the G20 summit in Seoul that Beijing had kidnapped him and that police beat her as a child.

"President Obama, as the father of two girls yourself, please ask President Hu to tell this daughter where her father is," Geng wrote in an opinion piece published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal.

"If the Chinese government has murdered my father, I beg President Obama to ask President Hu to let us bury him," she wrote.

"I'm old enough to understand that it might be better for my father to be dead than for him to undergo more unspeakable torture. But for my brother, Peter, who is only seven, not knowing whether our father is alive or dead is an unfathomable cruelty."

Gao Zhisheng's brother, Gao Zhiyi, said the Gao family has the right to be told the whereabouts of the lawyer, who fell foul of the authorities after he defended followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

"Whatever is going on, the family should at least have the right to know where [Gao Zhisheng] is," Gao Zhiyi said.

"They won't tell us anything. They aren't normal people. These are not the acts of a government," he said.

But he said he doubted whether pressure from Obama would change anything.

"How can Americans tell Chinese people how to run their affairs?" he said. "I don't think they can."

International criticism

However, Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Heping said the Chinese government should suffer international criticism over its treatment of Gao.

"To turn this person into someone missing, about whom the outside world doesn't even know if they're dead or alive, is a serious criminal act," Li said.

"[China] should be condemned for this, through international channels."

U.S.-based economist He Qinglian said Gao had been treated in a borderline manner, on top of long periods of prison detention and ill-treatment.

"He has already undergone intolerable torture when he was in prison," she said.

"Even though his entire family has been able to leave China, their situation still leaves great cause for concern," she added.

Whereabouts unknown

As a prominent rights lawyer in Beijing, Gao defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians and coal miners.

He disappeared in February 2009, re-emerged to speak briefly to friends and colleagues in March, and hasn't been heard of since.

"Six months ago last week, the Chinese government kidnapped my father, Gao Zhisheng," Geng wrote.

"My father is a lawyer, an increasingly dangerous profession in China."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu on Thursday declined to comment on Gao's whereabouts, urging reporters to consult the "relevant authorities."

Geng said in the letter that police beat her when she was 12 and authorities prevented her from attending school when she was 15, helping to push her mother toward seeking political asylum in the United States.

The family fled China in early 2009, four years after Gao renounced his Communist Party membership and openly called for an end to a crackdown on the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

In a secret trial in December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and given a suspended sentence of three years in prison, immediately placed under house arrest and put on probation for five years.

Senior U.S. officials raised Gao's case, together with that of jailed Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo, during a Sino-U.S. human rights dialogue in May.

Reported in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei and in Cantonese by Bi Zimo. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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