Friday, 25 September 2015

Finally Gao Appears and Speaks

Gao spoke to AP sometime earlier this year about what happened to him
We were so relieved to read Associated Press had an exclusive face-to-face interview with leading Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.

He dropped out of sight in April 2010 and although he was released over a year ago, we wondered what had happened to him in that time.

Turns out he told AP he was tortured with an electric baton to his face and spent three years in solitary confinement during his latest period of detention since 2010.

Despite the harsh treatment, Gao refuses to leave China even though he is separated from his wife and two children who are living in the United States.

When he was released from prison in 2014, the formerly outspoken lawyer could barely walk or speak full, intelligible sentences, which raised concerns that Gao had been permanently broken physically and mentally.

But a year later he seems to be himself...

His wife Geng He is living in exile in the US with the children
"Every time we emerge from the prison alive, it is a defeat for our opponents," he told AP.

Gao now lives in a dug-out cave on a cliff in Shaanxi province with his older brother, though he is constantly under surveillance. He apparently managed to finish manuscripts for two books that were secretly sent out of China for publication.

In the interview and in one of his books, Gao said he spent three years in solitary confinement that he survived thanks to his faith in God and his unwavering hope for China.

"I thought about giving up and giving my time to my family, but it's the mission God has given me" to stay in China, Gao, a Christian, said.

His wife Geng He said from Cupertino, California, that she didn't understand why her husband was imprisoned and why he continued to be under house arrest.

"I don't understand why the government has to imprison him. He is just a lawyer. His legal profession requires him to help and serve others. Why is he being treated like this? He is standing up for greater freedom in China."

She later posted on her Twitter account a letter from her husband urging her to decline an invitation to meet a US deputy secretary of state before the summit between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He told her such a meeting would be futile. Since the administration of President Bill Clinton, "the American political class has disregarded the basic humanitarian principles and muddied itself by getting close to the sinister Communist Party," Gao wrote, according to his wife.

In one of Gao's books -- that has yet to be published -- he predicts the authoritarian rule under China's Communist Party will end in 2017 -- a revelation he says he received from God. He also outlines a plan to build up a democratic, modern China after the party's collapse. The book also details his inhumane treatment in prison.

The other book is addressed to his son and tells of his family's story.

Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor and expert on China's legal system, says Gao has become a symbol of the repression of rights lawyers in the country, and that it was heartening to hear he had given an interview.

"I had worried that Gao had become a forgotten man," Cohen said. "He was the leading human rights lawyer in China. He was a bold, courageous, outspoken person, and they broke him, they broke him in the cruelest way."

In Gao's book, he said he endured more torture, including with an electric baton to his face -- a moment he remembers as a near out-of-body experience when he heard his own voice.

"Undoubtedly, it was from me. I don't know how to describe it," Gao wrote. "That sound was almost like a dog howling when its tail is forcibly stepped on by its master. Sometimes it sounded like what a puppy makes when it's hung upside by its tail."

During these years of detention, Gao says he was able to build a mental barrier against the physical perception of pain. "This is a special ability I have acquired to allow me to survive difficult times," he said in the interview.

He says he was secretly tried in December 2011, and it was only then that the government acknowledged it was holding him by sending him to prison.

This was the first time he was taken outside -- albeit hooded -- for the first time in 21 months. "It was the first time I heard a dog bark and that I could breathe fresh air," he said.

Then he was moved to a prison in Xinjiang and while he was no longer beaten, he had to stay in a room of 8 square metres (86 sq ft) without windows or ventilation for three years.

As a result he could not cope with being in large spaces after his release. "I found I could not walk at the airport, but i could walk inside the locked-up room," he said.

Gao said at one point during his three-year period in prison, the authorities installed a loudspeaker in his cell that spouted propaganda on socialist values for 68 weeks straight. "You cannot imagine the mental harassment they inflicted on me," he said.

Now out of prison (but constantly being watched), Gao is able to speak to his wife and children daily, but feels he cannot leave China to be reunited with them.

"My wife is suffering, but I can do nothing," he said. "I understand those persecuted souls who have left China and I am glad for them, but I cannot be among them. I cannot go," Gao said.

If what Gao says is true, the Chinese authorities have no shame in torturing a human being to the point of physical and mental breakdown. A government that prides itself on being on a "peaceful rise" is far from the truth.

Does China think we on the outside cannot see this? We understand that people like Gao and Liu Xiaobo need to do their work from the inside, but we need them to know we are on their side cheering them on, to tell them they are not alone.

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