Friday, 6 August 2010

Honouring China's Conscience

Later today Gao Zhisheng will be honoured with the American Bar Association's International Human Rights Lawyer Award.

However, he is still missing in China, but his 17-year-old daughter Grace will accept the award on his behalf in San Francisco.

The award is given to a distinguished foreign human rights lawyer who suffers persecution as a result of their professional activities, and Gao fits the bill.

Known as "the conscience of China" for his legal work in representing persecuted the downtrodden, such religious groups including the Falun Gong and victims of corruption, Gao has been repeatedly imprisoned and tortured by the authorities.

He had disappeared for over a year and then suddenly emerged at a Buddhist sanctuary in late March this year. He was allowed to contact some foreign media and expressed hope that his good behaviour would lead to a reunion with his family who fled to the United States. However, he disappeared again on April 20 after he had gone to see his father-in-law in Xinjiang. Gao has not been heard from since.

Glenn Hendrix, chair of the American Bar Association's Section of International Law, said, "in bringing attention to Gao Zhisheng's case, we show that the world is watching. Hopefully this will help protect other courageous lawyers who are promoting the rule of law in China."

Gao's wife Geng He adds, "It is my hope that the award will compel the Chinese government to release my husband. How much longer can it [make him] disappear when it knows the whole world is watching?"

A pro bono legal team has been fighting for Gao for a long time and it includes New York University Professor Jerome Cohen, Canadian lawyer David Matas, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, Hong Kong lawyer and legislator Albert Ho and former Canadian MP David Kilgour.

It will probably be a bitter-sweet moment for Grace to receive the award for her father. She understands how much he has sacrificed -- including impacting his own family -- for the greater good of others.

The authorities put the family under surveillance for many months and the pressure got so great for her that she was mentally unstable which led to Geng's decision to take Grace and her younger brother out of the country.

It is an enormous price to pay for both the family and Gao. His work and determination to fight for others should never be forgotten. He has helped expose the contradictions and failures of the Chinese legal system as well as the deep insecurities of the Chinese government which will do anything to stop him from fighting for his clients on the rule of law.

That in itself is a grave injustice.

1 comment:

  1. it is sad to see china is taking a backward step in human rights and a true and fair 'legal' system. despite all the progresses in material life, the respect to human value still lags behind. the recent uprisings, attacks of police and authorities are some examples of the unrest and anger of the people in the country.