Chinese Human Rights Defender Gao Zhisheng Disappears Again

June 4, 2010

Prominent Chinese human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, who in late March 2010 resurfaced after having disappeared for more than a year, has again gone missing. The latest disappearance comes only a month after Gao reappeared in public following his nearly 14 months in what experts on the case describe as official custody. In late March and early April, Gao made contact with friends and family and gave several interviews, during which he reportedly appeared to be under surveillance. Multiple international news outlets now have reported that Gao failed to return to Beijing after visiting with family in western China in mid-April, and has again disappeared.

Weeks after reportedly "resurfacing" in late March 2010, prominent Chinese human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng disappeared again in mid-April, according to an April 30 New York Times (NYT) article and a May 1 Voice of America article. In early April, Gao gave several interviews to foreign reporters, claiming he had been "released" months earlier and had ended his human rights campaigning in hope of being reunited with his family. The extent of the restrictions imposed on Gao's freedom of movement and association after this reported "release" remain unclear. Gao provided few details of his circumstances or of his 14-month disappearance, according to a March 28 BBC News article. Gao's case has attracted international attention due to his legal advocacy on behalf of religious minorities, including underground Christians and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, ethnic minorities, rural farmers, and human rights activists.

Reappearance in Late March

On March 28, 2010, NYT reported that Gao had resurfaced at Wu-Tai Mountain, a sacred Buddhist landmark in Shanxi province. Gao told reporters, via phone, that he had been "released" by authorities six months earlier, and that he had "no plans to return to his work as a rights defender," according to a March 28 Reuters article and the March 28 NYT article. While Gao repeated those assertions in later interviews, the Reuters and NYT articles indicated that Gao appeared guarded and the Reuters article noted that Gao appeared "under some sort of police surveillance." After Gao's most recent reported disappearance, an April 30 South China Morning Post article (subscription required) reported on an interview with Gao in early April. An April 30 article on the U.S. Asia Law Web site (by the same author) apparently reported on the same interview, saying "[d]espite obviously knowing that his apartment was tapped by Chinese security agents, and saying that the police had threatened the possibility of forcibly sending him to a third country if he spoke to the media, the human rights defender was quite outspoken during the conversation, seemingly contradicting which he was quoted as saying that he had given up activism." According to the article, "[d]uring his meeting with this reporter, Gao asked that he not be quoted regarding his treatment while in captivity, or his political views, saying, 'We’re talking as friends―if this is reported, I’ll disappear again.'"

Background: Gao Zhisheng

A self-taught lawyer, Gao has repeatedly angered Chinese authorities by taking on sensitive cases and by exposing human rights abuses in China. In October 2005, Gao wrote an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao detailing torture of Falun Gong practitioners. A month later, authorities shut down Gao's law firm and revoked his lawyers' license. In December 2006, Gao was convicted of "inciting subversion of state power" and was given a three-year sentence, suspended for five years. After writing an open letter to the U.S. Congress in September 2007, Gao was reportedly detained and tortured for more than 50 days. In February 2009, Gao was forcibly taken by public security personnel in his hometown in Shaanxi province. Chinese officials, over the past year, have offered conflicting accounts of Gao's whereabouts and the conditions of his detention.

For more information on Gao Zhisheng and other Chinese human rights defenders, see Section II―Human Rights―Criminal Justice in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.