Beijing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. Convicted of subversion and put on probation for five years, Gao has been "disappeared" and tortured several times. He now serving the suspended sentence handed down in a closed trial in 2006 at Shaya prison in the remote western region of Xinjiang.
His wife, Geng He, who fled China in early 2009 along with the couple's two children, spoke to RFA Mandarin Service reporter Zhang Min after her father and brother-in-law visited Gao in jail on Jan. 12:
I only found out about the visit on Jan. 12 in the past couple of days, after his younger brother got back home. I managed to confirm it today and yesterday.
His elder brother has kept in touch all along with the ... police, saying they want to go and visit him, and that he'll go to Beijing complaining if he's not allowed to see him.In the end they got a letter informing them that they could visit this month. So his younger brother went out to buy a ticket, quick as he could, and went off to Xinjiang.
He said that, as soon as he got to the prison, they told him a list of five or six things he wasn't allowed to ask Gao Zhisheng, including details of his case, how he was doing in the prison here, none of that.
If he asked him, they would terminate the meeting immediately, whether it had gone on for one minute or 10.
All he was allowed to talk about was how our family is doing, our health.
His brother said the guards told him as they were walking to the meeting that a word from his relatives is worth 10 of theirs, and asked him to tell Gao Zhisheng to cooperate with the authorities in their work. But they weren't specific about what he was supposed to be doing.
They wouldn't let them ask anything [about his life inside].
Before this, I had been in touch with his sister, and told them to be sure to ask, if anyone did get to visit, on what day his sentence ended. We don't know, and the lawyer can't get involved. When his younger brother went this time, they said flatly that he wasn't allowed to ask that.
He wasn't even allowed to ask what his life was like in the jail.
My brother noticed [Gao] had chapped skin around his lips, and told him to drink more water. Gao said it was probably because the climate over there is so dry.
His brother did ask him whether or not Gao was able to read newspapers or watch TV in jail, and before he could reply, a guard chipped in and said, "We don't let him read or watch TV because he doesn't have the ranking to watch TV yet. We have a library here." They didn't say anything about letting him read newspapers, though.
My view is, why don't they let him watch TV? Because he doesn't have the ranking? What ranking?
He walked out without assistance, and it didn't look as if there was any problem with his mobility. He seemed fairly alert, as well.
He asked about how everyone in the family was doing.
It was a stage-managed visit; a formal meeting. He didn't give a message for us, nothing like that.
He just told me to take good care of the kids, and that I shouldn't spend too much energy worrying about his situation. Apart from that, there was no message at all for me.
We both felt a bit let down by it because we got nothing from it. But I thought about it and I don't blame him. There is very little real meaning in such visits. The relatives exhaust themselves traveling thousands of miles to be there, but they get nothing out of it....
I have been writing to Gao Zhisheng this whole time, and sending greetings cards at New Year, but they wouldn't let [his brother] ask if he had received them.
They wouldn't let us give him any gifts, and he could only get a maximum of 600 yuan in cash [about U.S. $100] so they left that with him. They weren't allowed to leave him new clothes....
His hair was all shaved off. That made me feel very sad. His brother said he was wearing a beige quilted jacket and trousers.
They couldn't get an answer [on when the next visit would be.] We have no channel of contact with them, either.
The past few days I have been writing letters to him every day, on the off-chance that he will get one of them. Just maybe.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.