Chinese Dissident ‘Utterly Destroyed’ in Detention

Human rights lawyer still being watched, denied medical care after release
Gao Zhisheng

Gao Zhisheng in 2010 / AP

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A Chinese dissident lawyer who says he was repeatedly tortured by authorities remains under strict surveillance after his release earlier this month, according to human rights groups.

Gao Zhisheng, one of the founders of China’s human rights defense movement in the early 2000s, was released on Aug. 7 from a prison in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The combative lawyer took on some of the most politically sensitive cases in China before allegedly enduring eight years of detention and torture by security forces.

Gao was “utterly destroyed” in confinement, according to his international lawyer. After being assigned to Shaya prison in December 2011 for a three-year jail sentence, he was held in a small dark cell and denied all contact with the outside world. He shed about 50 pounds from a meager diet of one slice of bread and a piece of cabbage a day, and he lost several teeth.

Gao can barely speak. His family believes he was physically tortured in prison and now suffers from mental health problems.

Security officials have reportedly barred Gao from visiting a doctor while he lives with his wife’s sister in Xinjiang.

Gao’s wife Geng He and his two children escaped to the United States in 2009 after suffering threats and surveillance from Chinese officials. She said in a recent statement that she was “completely devastated by what the Chinese government has done to my husband.”

“The only thing I feared more than him being killed was his suffering relentless and horrific torture and being kept alive,” she said. “My children and I have been lucky to have had the protection of the United States since we arrived here in March 2009.”

“We desperately need help from our adopted country and from President Obama and Secretary [John] Kerry personally to demand the Chinese government to allow my husband to come to the United States for medical treatment,” she added. “If [Chinese] President Xi Jinping has any sense of decency or humanity, after crushing my husband both physically and psychologically, the least he could do is allow me as a devoted wife to care for him.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said earlier this month that U.S. officials “urge Chinese authorities to allow [Gao] to leave China to be reunited with his family in the United States if he so chooses.”

Human rights groups such as ChinaChange.org are urging Obama to press Jinping directly on Gao’s situation at an economic meeting in November in Beijing.

Gao’s trouble began in 2005 when he directly petitioned then Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to end state persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that is banned in China. He was harassed and watched closely by plainclothes police before being detained and tortured in 2006, when he wrote a letter to the U.S. Congress about China’s human rights conditions.

Gao was sentenced in December 2006 to three years in prison, five years of probation, and one year of deprivation of “political rights,” which he is currently serving. His charge was “inciting to subvert state power.”

Rights activists say he should still be allowed to speak and move as he pleases under Chinese law, even though he is deprived of his political rights.

Gao did not begin serving the three-year jail sentence until December 2011. He disappeared into informal detention before that while on “probation.”

Gao provided a harrowing account of his torture in 2007 entitled, “Dark Night, Dark Hood, and Kidnapping by the Dark Mafia”:

While Wang was saying this, the electric shock prods were put on my face and upper body shocking me. Wang then said, “Come on guys, deliver the second course!” Then, the electric shock baton was put all over me. And my full body, my heart, lungs and muscles began jumping under my skin uncontrollably. I was writhing on the ground in pain, trying to crawl away. Wang then shocked me in my genitals. My begging them to stop only returned laughing and more unbelievable torture. Wang then used the electric shock baton three more times on my genitals while shouting loudly. After a few hours of this I had no energy to even beg, let alone, try to escape. But my mind was still clear. […]

“Yes, your memory is still good. I told you, you would come back sooner or later. When I saw you the way you behaved in Xiajiang, I knew you would be back. You even looked down upon our police. Shouldn’t we help you have a better lesson? You wrote that letter to American congressmen. Look at you, you traitor. What could you be given by your American lord? The American Congress counts for nothing. This is China. It is the Communist Party’s territory. To capture your life is as easy as stepping on an ant. If you dare to continue to write your stupid articles, the government has to make its attitude clear. Now, did you see that attitude tonight?” Jiang spoke slowly.

The continued persecution of Gao is part of a broad crackdown on dissent by Jinping, which includes forced psychiatric treatment for dissidents and repression of religious and ethnic minorities.