Sunday, 1 January 2012

Alive but Behind Bars

Gao Zhisheng in better times
We now know dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng is alive, but in prison.

He has not been seen by friends or loved ones for over 20 months but now his brother Gao Zhiyi has received a letter issued by a Beijing court that Gao Zhisheng is now in Shaya County Prison in Xinjiang. Shaya is about 1,200 kilometres southwest of Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang.

"Now we know where he is, I hope we can visit him in a few days, but it's a long way to travel," said Gao Zhiyi.

Last month Xinhua News Agency said Gao had been sent back to prison after a court ruled he had violated the terms of his probation, though it gave no date. The report said a Beijing court sent him back to jail for three years after ruling he had "seriously violated probation rules a number of times", but did not say where he was.

Human rights critics say sending Gao to Xinjiang is akin to sending him to internal exile, making it difficult or virtually impossible for people to contact him.

Gao being held incommunicado this entire period is a flagrant disregard for China's own laws.

The last time he surfaced was in April 2010 when he reported he had been held in various places from detention centres, apartments and even farm houses across China, beaten and abused.

He said he was hooded many times and that his captors made him sit motionless for 16 hours and threatened to kill him and dump him in a river.

Gao has been a thorn in the government's side for defending all kinds of people, from coal miners to Christians. He also advocated constitutional reform, argued landmark cases to defend land rights.

He was convicted for "inciting subversion of state power" in 2006 and sentenced to three years in prison.

After he came out he was subjected to five years probation, which severely impacted his wife Geng He and two children. The family was under constant surveillance and the pressure became so unbearable that Geng, his son and daughter fled to the United States.

When he was briefly released in April 2010, Gao told the media he missed his family and hoped his good behaviour would help his case.

But soon after that he was disappeared.

Only in China can one say someone "was disappeared" because it was hardly their own choice.

We are relieved to hear Gao is alive, but sad and frustrated he is still in prison.

What did he do wrong?

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