Gao ZhishengChina

Gao Zhisheng is one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers as well as a husband and the father of two children. Mr. Gao was disappeared by the Chinese government on April 20, 2010 and was held incommunicado for more than 20 months. On December 16, 2011, the Chinese government announced that Mr. Gao had been sentenced to three years in prison for violating his parole and was imprisoned at Shaya County Prison in Xinjian on December 29, 2011.

Mr. Gao is a self-taught litigator whom the Chinese Ministry of Justice once praised as one of the country’s ten best lawyers. In 2005, after being denied access to the courts for taking on politically sensitive cases, Mr. Gao wrote open letters to both the National People’s Congress and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, calling for an end to the torture of members of persecuted religious groups. Mr. Gao’s license to practice law was subsequently revoked, his law firm shut down, and his family placed under police surveillance.

On July 30, 2006, Mr. Gao was beaten by the police officers monitoring his home. Two weeks later, he was apprehended at his sister’s home, but authorities did not notify Mr. Gao’s family of his arrest until September 21, when he was charged with “inciting subversion.” After giving a forced confession in the face of threats against his children, Mr. Gao was convicted in December 2006 and given a suspended three-year sentence with five years’ probation, effectively placing him under house arrest.

In September 2007, Mr. Gao wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress, detailing human rights violations in China. He was promptly apprehended and tortured, during which time authorities beat Mr. Gao with batons, held burning cigarettes to his face, and used toothpicks and electric shocks to pierce his genitals.

In January 2009, after years of government threats and constant, humiliating surveillance, Mr. Gao’s wife and two children secretly fled to the United States and sought asylum.

Mr. Gao disappeared on February 4, 2009, when he was again apprehended by security personnel without any notice to his family. After months of refusing to comment on Mr. Gao’s case, his brother traveled to Beijing in December 2009 to ask authorities about Mr. Gao’s whereabouts, only to be told he had “gone missing.” On January 21, 2010, the Chinese Foreign Ministry acknowledged for the first time the detention of Mr. Gao, stating “this person, according to Chinese law, is where he should be.”

Gao mysteriously reappeared on March 28, 2010, after a year of intense international pressure. He was briefly allowed to return to Beijing. In April 2010, Mr. Gao was instructed by government agents to visit his father-in-law in far Western China. On April 20, 2010, security agents told Mr. Gao to return to Beijing. However, Mr. Gao never arrived in Beijing.

In March 2010, Freedom Now submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Mr. Gao. In November 2010, the Working Group found Mr. Gao’s detention to be in violation of international law and called on China to release him immediately.

For more than 20 months, Mr. Gao was held incommunicado. On December 16, 2011, the Beijing People’s First Intermediate Court ordered that Mr. Gao be imprisoned for three years to serve the full sentence imposed on December 22, 2006. State media reported that the Court withdrew Mr. Gao’s probation—set to expire the following week—claiming without explanation that Mr. Gao had “seriously violated probation rules a number of times.”

Mr. Gao was imprisoned at the Shaya County Prison in a remote area of the Xinjian until August 7, 2014 when he was released. During his time at the Shaya County Prison, Mr. Gao was held in solitary confinement in a very small cell with minimal light. Guards were strictly instructed not to speak with him. He was not allowed any reading materials, television, or access to anyone or anything. He was fed a single slice of bread and piece of cabbage, once a day. He has lost a significant amount of weight and many teeth from malnutrition. It is believed he was repeatedly physically tortured. Mr. Gao can barely talk and it is believed he is now suffering from a broad range of physical and mental health problems. He has not been allowed to see a doctor since his release.

Mr. Gao was released to the house of his in-laws in Urumqi where he is continuing to serve his supplemental sentence of one year of “deprivation of political rights.” This additional sentence was set to expire in August 2015 when he was expected to be fully released. However, Mr. Gao’s whereabouts remain unknown as he taken back in custody by the Chinese government again in September 2017.

Selected documents from Gao Zhisheng's case
A Dissident's WifeMarch 28, 2011

New York Times op-ed by Geng He (wife of Gao Zhisheng)

A World Away from China, Geng He Seeks Justice for Her Dissident HusbandFebruary 17, 2012

Washington Post Style Section article chronicling the advocacy efforts of Freedom Now and Gao Zhisheng's wife, Geng He.

Again, Where is Gao Zhisheng?October 27, 2010

Wall Street Journal (Asia) editorial highlighting the detention and disappearance of Gao Zhisheng.

Canada Can Help an Imprisoned Chinese HeroMarch 11, 2010

The Mark op-ed by David Kilgour.

China: UN Experts Denounce Secret Detention of Human Rights Lawyer Gao ZhishengDecember 23, 2012

Press Release from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announcing a statement by UN experts condemning the continued detention of Gao Zhisheng.

China's Missing Human Rights LawyerMarch 19, 2010

International Herald Tribune op-ed by Jerome A. Cohen and Beth Schwanke.

China's Rule of Law: Go After the LawyersApril 9, 2013

Washington Post op-ed by Geng He and Chen Guangcheng.

Criminalizing DissentNovember 1, 2010

Ottawa Citizen op-ed by Irwin Cotler

Demanding Justice for Gao ZhishengFebruary 27, 2014

Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jared Genser.

Do We Have to Wait 30 Years for Human Rights in China?January 21, 2011

Washington Post editorial by Fred Hiatt.

Grace Geng Speaks to the BBCOctober 28, 2011

BBC interview with Grace Geng (daughter of Gao Zhisheng).

Harmful EffectsJanuary 26, 2012

South China Morning Post op-ed by Jerome A. Cohen and Jared Genser.

In China, Repression is a Family AffairApril 26, 2013

Wall Street Journal (Asia) op-ed by Jared Genser.

Letter from 11 Members of the Canadian ParliamentNovember 4, 2010

Urging Prime Minister Harper to raise the cases of Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xoaobo during the G-20 Summit.

Mr. Obama, Speak Up for Human Rights in ChinaJanuary 19, 2011

Washington Post op-ed by former Freedom Now client Dr. Yang Jianli.

Opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary DetentionNovember 19, 2010

Finding the imprisonment of Gao Zhisheng to be arbitrary under international law.

Petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary DetentionJanuary 11, 2011

Submitted on behalf of Gao Zhisheng.

Petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary DetentionMarch 9, 2010

Submitted on behalf of Gao Zhisheng.

Petition to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary DisappearancesFebruary 4, 2010

Submitted on behalf of Gao Zhisheng.

Petition to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary DisappearancesFebruary 27, 2014

Submitted on behalf of Gao Zhisheng.

Please Return My FatherOctober 27, 2010

Wall Street Journal (Asia) op-ed by Grace Geng (daughter of Gao Zhisheng).

President Obama Makes Hu Jintao Look Good on RightsJanuary 20, 2011

Washington Post editorial.

Press ReleaseAugust 5, 2010

Announcing that Gao Zhisheng received the American Bar Association's 2010 International Human Rights Lawyer Award.

Press ReleaseFebruary 4, 2010

China Holds Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Incommunicado for One Year: New Legal Team Files Petition to United Nations.

Press ReleaseMarch 8, 2010

Prominent Dissident Lawyer's Wife Confirms that Gao is Alive; Urges Chine to Allow Him to Come to the U.S.

Q&A: Daughter Longs to Reunite with Chinese Dissident DadNovember 25, 2010

Voice of America interview with Grace Geng (daughter of Gao Zhisheng).

Ritual AbuseFebruary 18, 2010

South China Morning Post op-ed by Beth Schwanke.

Testimony of Geng He (Wife of Gao Zhisheng)February 14, 2012

Before the Congressional Executive Commission on China ("Hearing on Prominent, Imprisoned Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng").

Testimony of Jared GenserFebruary 14, 2012

Before the Congressional Executive Commission on China ("Hearing on Prominent, Imprisoned Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng").

The Silencing of Gao ZhishengMay 31, 2010

Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jerome A. Cohen and Beth Schwanke.

The U.S. Must Speak Out Against China's OffensesFebruary 4, 2010

Washington Post op-ed by Geng He (wife of Gao Zhisheng).

To Combat China’s Crackdown on Dissidents A New Strategy is NeededOctober 28, 2013

Washington Post op-ed by Jared Genser.

U.S. Senate Resolution 554September 13, 2012

Calling on the Government of the People's Republic of China to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Gao Zhisheng.