Statement of CECC Chairman Christopher Smith and Cochairman Sherrod Brown on Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng

Congressional-Executive Commission on China |

Statement of CECC Chairman Christopher Smith and Cochairman Sherrod Brown on Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng

August 22, 2011

(Washington, DC)—CECC Chairman Christopher Smith and Cochairman Sherrod Brown call on Chinese authorities to immediately account for and free China's most famous human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng.

"China's shocking treatment of Mr. Gao is unconscionable and cannot be reconciled with China's desire for international respect and recognition," said Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith. "It has now been five years since authorities abducted Mr. Gao on August 15, 2006, escalating their brutal repression of Gao and his family. Since then Mr. Gao has been tortured, threatened with death, sentenced to prison, and forcibly 'disappeared,'" Smith said.

"Mr. Gao has been missing in China since April 2010, with no word as to his health or whereabouts. His wife and two children have fled to the United States. Mr. Gao's life is clearly in danger, and the conspicuous silence only raises more questions about his fate," said Commission Cochairman Senator Sherrod Brown. "These are not the acts of a country based on the rule of law. The Chinese government wants a seat at the table of world powers, but its repression of human rights cannot be tolerated. We cannot turn a blind eye to its brutal repression of those who seek universal rights of freedom and justice." Under both Chinese and international law, China is obligated to assure Mr. Gao's safety, free him immediately, and let him resume his important work of defending the rights of his fellow citizens.

The Chinese government initially praised the self-trained Gao as one of the country's top lawyers. But he angered authorities when he used the law to defend China's oppressed. A Christian house church member, Mr. Gao represented fellow Christians accused of "illegally" distributing Bibles and reported on government raids of house churches. In a high-profile labor case, Mr. Gao bravely defended workers detained for protesting low wages and poor working conditions. He also documented the torture and abuse of Falun Gong practitioners. In addition, Mr. Gao has advocated on behalf of victims of land expropriation and those harmed by China's population planning policy.

In response, authorities revoked Mr. Gao's law license in 2005. In 2006, they sentenced Mr. Gao to three years in prison on trumped-up "inciting subversion" charges. Authorities suspended the sentence for five years, but their harassment and abuse only worsened.

After Mr. Gao wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress in 2007 criticizing China's human rights record and hosting of the Olympics, authorities abducted and brutally tortured him for 50 days. Officials reportedly beat him with electric prods, abused him with toothpicks and threatened to kill him if he told anyone of his treatment. Mr. Gao later "disappeared" into official custody, resurfaced briefly in early 2010, and has been missing since April 2010.

"Mr. Gao's plight reflects the dire state of human rights lawyers and activists in China today," said Chairman Smith. "Since the beginning of this year, Chinese officials have launched a major assault on the country's vocal community of rights defenders and activists."

Cochairman Brown added, "The more recent crackdown has defied Chinese and international law. Numerous citizens have been detained, forcibly disappeared, and subjected to every form of abuse and harassment."

Smith and Brown noted that the victims include prominent artist Ai Weiwei, writer and activist Ran Yunfei, democracy activist Zhu Yufu, and rights defense lawyer Ni Yulan. They pointed out that the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has spoken out against China's abuses as violating international law. Recently, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared Gao's detention to be arbitrary and has demanded his release. They also declared that the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and house arrest of his wife Liu Xia violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition to urging for Gao's immediate release, Chairman Smith and Cochairman Brown reiterated their call on the Chinese government to "immediately cease its crackdown on rights activists and religious people, to free all political prisoners, and to protect Chinese citizens' fundamental rights to freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, and right to be free from arbitrary detention."

Representative Christopher Smith was recently appointed as Chairman of the CECC and Senator Sherrod Brown was appointed as Cochairman in May.