Gao Zhisheng (高智晟,born 1964) is a Chinese human rights attorney and dissident known for defending activists and religious minorities and documenting human rights abuses in China. Because of his work, Zhisheng has been disbarred and detained by the Chinese government several times, and severely tortured. He last disappeared in February 2009 and was unofficially detained until December 2011, when it was announced that he has now been imprisoned for three years. His commitment to defending his clients is influenced by his Christian beliefs and their tenets on morality and compassion.

Gao’s memoir, A China More Just (2007), documents his “fight as a rights lawyer in the world’s largest communist state.” In subsequent writing, he accuses the ruling Communist Party of China of state-sponsored torture and reports having been tortured by the Chinese secret police. He disappeared in February 2009. At the beginning of 2012, Gao’s brother said he had received a court document saying his brother was in Shayar jail in Xinjiang. In 2014, it was reported that Zhisheng was released from jail and put under house arrest.

Early Life

Gao was born and grew up in a house in Shaanxi Province with six siblings; his father died at the age of 40.[3][4] He briefly worked in a coal mine.

With his family not being able to afford elementary school, Gao said he sat listening outside the classroom window. Later, an uncle helped him attend secondary school, after which he qualified to join the People’s Liberation Army. His unit was stationed at a base in Kashgar, in Xinjiang region, and he became a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Later, he left the PLA and began working as a food vendor. In 1991, inspired by a newspaper article that mentioned a plan by Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, to train 150,000 new lawyers and develop the Chinese legal system, he took a course in Law. Gao credited his excellent memory of titles and clauses for passing all his exams; he passed the bar in 1995.

In 1989, the legislature passed the Administrative Procedure Law, which gave Chinese citizens the right to sue state agencies for the first time. In the 1990s, Gao represented the family of a Xinjiang boy who became comatose after a doctor erroneously gave him ethanol intravenously; Gao won $100,000 in damages for a boy who had lost his hearing in another malpractice case. He acted on behalf of a private businessman who had taken control of and redressed a troubled state-owned company when the district government used force to reclaim it after it became profitable. The case went to the Supreme Court, with a verdict in favour of the businessman; however, according to Gao, he has been a victim of reprisals from Xinjiang leaders, who warned clients and court officials to shun him.

Detentions and House Arrest

Amnesty International alleged on 17 January 2006 that Gao narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, planned as a traffic accident ordered by Chinese secret police. On 4 February 2006, Gao, together with Hu Jia and other activists, launched a “Relay Hunger Strike for Human Rights,” whereby different activists and citizens fasted for 24 hours in rotation. The hunger strike was joined by people in 29 provinces, as well as overseas, though several participants were arrested for joining.

On 15 August 2006, after numerThe American Board of Trial Advocates selected Gao to receive the prestigious Courageous Advocacy Award; they had invited him to receive the award personally in Santa Barbara, California on 30 June 2007.

On 22 September 2007, after writing open letters to Vice-President of the European Parliament, Edward McMillan-Scott, and then to US Congress calling for a boycott of the Olympics, Gao was once again taken away from his home, where he had been under house arrest, by Chinese secret police. A letter from Gao claimed that he endured ten days of torture that involved appalling beatings, abuse with electric batons, and the insertion of toothpicks into his genitalia, followed by weeks of emotional torture. Gao wrote that his torturers said his case had become personal with ‘uncles’ in the state security apparatus after he had repeatedly publicised previous mistreatment.

ous death threats and continued harassment, Gao disappeared while visiting his sister’s family. On 21 September 2006, he was officially arrested. On 22 December 2006, Gao was convicted of “subversion”, and was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended, and placed on probation for five years.

In February 2009, Gao was taken away for interrogation by Chinese security agents and had not been seen until he resurfaced in Shanxi in March 2010. One month prior to his disappearance, Gao’s wife and two children escaped China with the help of underground religious adherents. They arrived in the United States and were granted right of asylum ten days later.

The report of Gao’s 2010 disappearance and detention was considered by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which, in March 2011, called for his release. After months of speculation as to his status and whereabouts, Xinhua reported in December 2011 that Gao had been jailed for three years by No. 1 Beijing Intermediate People’s Court because he “had seriously violated probation rules for a number of times, which led to the court decision to withdraw the probation.” According to his brother, Gao was being held in a jail in Xayar County, Xinjiang province.

Zhisheng was released from jail on 7 August 2014, and he is now kept under house arrest. Having been fed with a slice of bread and a piece of cabbage daily, he was released in bad health, but medical access has been denied for him.

In the fall of 2007, Gao’s memoir A China More Just was published in English in the United States.

Abstract from Wikimedia


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