CECC Chairman Byron Dorgan Calls on China to Reveal Whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng

Congressional-Executive Commission on China | www.cecc.gov

CECC Chairman Byron Dorgan Calls on China to Reveal Whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng

July 28, 2009

(Washington, DC)—Senator Byron Dorgan, Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), made the following statement on the disappearance of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng:


I am Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The Commission examines human rights and rule of law developments in China. Recently, it has noted the increasing harassment of China’s human rights lawyers. Some of these lawyers have been disbarred and their law firms closed. Others have been physically harassed or beaten. What do these lawyers share in common? They have the tenacity and courage to take on politically sensitive cases.

I want to say a few words today about China’s most famous human rights lawyer, a very courageous man named Gao Zhisheng

It is 174 days since Mr. Gao was last seen being taken from his bed by more than 10 men.

His captors – apparently the “national defense” unit of China’s public security agency according to the renowned China expert Jerome Cohen– had threatened to kill the young lawyer during previous detentions marked by horrific torture.

What was his transgression? Mr. Gao agreed to take politically sensitive cases, and represented some of the most vulnerable people in China.

He sought to use the law to battle corruption, overturn illegal property seizures, expose police abuses and defend the religious freedom of persecuted Christians, members of Falun Gong and others.

In October 2005, Gao wrote an open letter to the President of China detailing the torture of Falun Gong members by authorities. A month later, authorities shut down his law firm and revoked his license to practice law. In 2006, Gao was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power.” He was placed under “home surveillance” which was harsher than prison, not only for Gao and but for his family.

In 2007, public security officers abducted Gao again, and he was brutally tortured for 50 days. His abduction was apparently prompted by the publication of an open letter he wrote to us, members of the US Congress. In that letter, Gao alleged widespread human rights abuses in China and described the government's harsh treatment of him and his family.

His captors called him “a traitor”. They also warned him that he would be killed if he told anyone about being abducted and tortured.

Once released, he was placed again under “home surveillance”. His family faced constant police surveillance and intimidation. His daughter was barred from attending school and lost hope.

The treatment became so brutal that the family decided that their survival depended on escaping from China. But Gao was too closely monitored and could not think of leaving with them without placing his family at great risk.

And so, last January, Gao’s wife, 6-year-old son and teenage daughter were smuggled out of China and then travelled onto the United States. After his family fled China, Gao was abducted from his home. No one has seen him alive since.

We know that his situation is extremely grave. I have met with his wife who fears he may have been killed. The Chinese government has not let anyone see him despite the repeated appeals by UN agencies, our government and other foreign governments, NGOs, and the media.

The Chinese government has signed or ratified many international human rights commitments that require it to come clean about Mr. Gao.

We call on the Chinese government to allow Mr. Gao access to a lawyer and to his family, and to publicly state and justify the grounds for his continued abuse.

The right to speak freely and the right to challenge the government - all of these are enshrined in China's Constitution. Yet, it appears that the Chinese government and Communist Party seem intent on upholding the violation of these rights in the case of Mr. Gao.

What has the Chinese government done to Mr. Gao? How do they justify it? And, when will they allow his family to see him? The government’s continued refusal to produce Mr. Gao makes his case resemble those of “disappeared” in Latin American dictatorships.

American law has the practice of habeas corpus. It is the legal action through which a person can seek relief from the unlawful detention of himself or another. Nothing similar to America's habeas corpus exists in China’s legislation or practice. But the UN Conventions against Torture, which China ratified twenty years ago, obligate it to come clean about Gao. I urge government of China to disclose Gao's whereabouts and to justify the grounds for his continued detention.

I yield the floor.