The United Nations has urged China to release top human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been held in secret for almost a year.
In making the call, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a panel of independent experts in human rights and international law, said China should "provide for reparation of the harm caused" to Gao, who has previously claimed he was tortured in detention.
The U.N. group's call to Beijing was made in July last year and contained in a three-page report on Gao's case adopted by the group in November 2010, according to a copy of the report issued by the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom Now.
The latest move adds pressure on the Chinese authorities to unravel the mystery over the whereabouts of Gao, who has now been disappeared and held completely incommunicado since April 2010.
“It becomes harder for China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, to maintain that it really is a good actor in the U.N. community when it’s engaging in conduct that receives such harsh criticism from a U.N. expert,” Human Rights Watch Asian advocacy director Sophie Richardson said in an interview.
She said that China’s government is now “squarely on the hook for answering for their conduct.”
The U.N. Working Group held that the detention "violated international law because Gao’s disappearance was punishment for exercising his fundamental human rights and because the government failed to meet even the minimum international standards for due process," Freedom Now said in a statement.
The rights group had submitted a petition to the U.N. on behalf of Gao, who had represented religious minorities in politically sensitive cases.
Lawyer ‘became a target’
Meanwhile, in a March 28 essay in The New York Times, Gao’s wife Geng He said that China’s Ministry of Justice had once listed her husband as one of “the top 10 lawyers in China.”
“But when he began representing members of religious groups persecuted by the government, he became a target himself,” said Geng, who fled with their children to the United States in early 2009 to escape surveillance and harassment by Chinese authorities.
Geng said that her husband has been repeatedly tortured by his captors, suffering electric shock, burns from lighted cigarettes, piercings of his genitals, and beatings with handguns.
“He has been tied up and forced to sit motionless for hours, threatened with death, and told that our children were having nervous breakdowns,” she added.
Since Gao’s disappearance last year, she said, “We have had no news of him. I don’t even know where he is, or even if he is alive or dead.”
Rule of law
“The Chinese government must not be allowed to claim that China is a nation operating under the rule of law while persecuting those who try to ensure that it respects the law,” Geng said.
“And when the government silences dissent, the international community must speak up.”
T. Kumar, international advocacy director for the rights group Amnesty International, welcomed the U.N. group's move, strongly urging the Chinese government "to release [Gao] immediately and unconditionally.”
“He should not have been imprisoned in the first place,” Kumar said.
Reported by Richard Finney.