An interview report by Zhang Min, host of the Radio Free Asia talk show “Journey of the Soul” —September 1, 2012
*Bob Fu: Shaya Prison authorities gave three reasons for refusing to allow the attorneys to meet with Gao Zhisheng and to represent him in his appeal.*
On August 27, human rights lawyers Li Xiongbing and Li Subin of Beijing, China, were engaged by Gao Zhiyi, the eldest brother of Gao Zhisheng, and traveled to Shaya Prison in Xinjiang and applied for permission to meet with imprisoned attorney Gao Zhisheng, but the prison denied their request. Some human rights groups and Gao Zhisheng’s family have raised questions about the legality and truthfulness of the reasons given by the prison authorities.
Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, a U.S.-based non-governmental human rights group, learned of this development in a timely fashion. When I interviewed him, he said: “The news we have gotten is that two Beijing attorneys, Li Xiongbing and Li Subin, went to Xinjiang’s Shaya Prison on August 27 and applied to meet with the imprisoned attorney Gao Zhisheng.
“They were engaged by Gao Zhiyi, the eldest brother of attorney Gao, and they brought with them a complete set of legal documentation for their request for a meeting to show that they were authorized to represent attorney Gao in handling the next stage of his appeal. However, the person in charge of the relevant department of Xinjiang’s Shaya Prison put up every conceivable obstacle and listed three main reasons for refusing to let them meet with Gao Zhisheng.
The first main reason was: According to the relevant stipulations of the Ministry of Justice, only an authorization signed by the imprisoned inmate can be regarded as valid. That’s why Gao Zhiyi’s authorization does not count and therefore cannot be used as a basis for application. Second, they said attorney Gao himself is a senior attorney and therefore he doesn’t need other attorneys to defend him. If he needs a defense, he can do it himself and these two attorneys from Beijing do not need to meet with Gao. Third, according to the prison authorities, Gao said that he himself doesn’t want to meet with any family members or attorneys, so there is no need to meet with these two attorneys.
*About attorney Gao Zhisheng and a brief description of Gao’s case.*
Attorney Gao Zhisheng, 48, handled the defense of the northern Shaanxi oil field case, Falun Gong cases and others. From December 2004 to December 2005, he wrote three open letters to the highest leaders of China, demanding that they stop persecuting Falun Gong practitioners. In November 2005, Beijing Shengzhi Law Office, of which he was the director, was shut down by Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice. On Aug. 15, 2006, Gao Zhisheng was kidnapped by the police. On December 22, he was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to three years in prison with a five-year reprieve and deprivation of his political rights for one year. He went back home.
In September 2007, Gao Zhisheng was again arrested. After his release, his article “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia” was circulated. In it, he described the tortures he experienced, including insertion of toothpicks into his genitals.
The American Board of Trial Advocates awarded its Courageous Advocacy Award to attorney Gao Zhisheng, who has also won other human rights awards.
At dawn on Feb. 4, 2009, Gao was kidnapped by the police right in front of his relatives from his hometown in northern Shaanxi, and went missing. For about ten days between late March and early April 2010, he resurfaced and talked on the phone with the outside world. After that, he was again “disappeared.”
In early 2009, Gao Zhisheng’s wife, son and daughter fled China and later were settled in America as refugees.
At the end of last year, near the end of the five-year reprieve [of his sentence] and after he had been “disappeared” for 21 months, Gao Zhisheng was sent to Shaya Prison in Xinjiang to serve his original three-year sentence.
On March 24, after he had been “disappeared” for 21 months followed by three months of imprisonments, the family members of attorney Gao Zhisheng saw him for the first time in two whole years. Since then, more than five months has passed and the family has not been able to make contact with the prison and have not been able to get permission to visit Gao Zhisheng again, nor have they gotten any news about him.
*Bob Fu: Gao Zhisheng has been illegally deprived of his right to meet with his attorneys and his family members; China’s environment for the practice of law and the rule of law is deteriorating*
“On August 27, after Shaya Prison refused to allow the two Beijing attorneys authorized by Gao Zhisheng’s family to meet with him, Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, said: “The two attorneys made a strong argument on the basis of the legal stipulations, pointing out especially that if the reasons given by the prison authorities were valid, then carrying out the relevant stipulations in China’s Criminal Procedural Law and Criminal Law governing the engaging of lawyers and their meetings would be nearly impossible.”
The attorneys also suggested, ‘If this requires attorney Gao’s own say-so, could we the lawyers meet with Gao for a few minutes so that at least he can express his own opinions?’ But the prison authorities refused this request as well.
On August 28, the two lawyers went to Prison Administration Bureau of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Urumqi to lodge a formal complaint about the illegal conduct of Xinjiang Shaya Prison. An official of the Prison Administration Bureau came out and received them. Finally, he said to the attorneys: ‘The decision made by Shaya Prison is the decision of Prison Administration Bureau of Xinjiang. Therefore, it is correct and cannot be changed. So the two lawyers do not have the right or the need to meet with attorney Gao.’ That’s the whole story.
The lawyers think that, at this time, the imprisoned Gao Zhisheng has been illegally deprived of his right to meet with his lawyers and family members. The lawyers will continue to lodge complaints about this to the relevant departments. This is the additional information we have gotten so far.
Q: “I tried to call these two lawyers, but couldn’t get through to them.”
Bob Fu: “The lawyers are facing a great pressure. The lawyers certainly hope they can follow the legal procedure and do everything according to the law in continuing to appeal for and lodge complaints about [the deprivation of] attorney Gao’s rights. But the environment for the practice of law in China is worsening and the environment for the rule of law is also very bad. Therefore, based on what I know, the lawyers are in a situation of great pressure.”
*Gao Zhiyi: At the end of last year, Shaya Prison told us a lie, that “Gao Zhisheng said he didn’t want to see anybody.” With regard to Gao Zhisheng, no law applies*
When Gao Zhisheng’s family members heard that Shaya Prison and its higher-ups refused to allow the lawyers to meet with Gao Zhisheng and learned the reasons the authorities gave, they expressed their opinions and feelings.
Mr. Gao Zhiyi, the eldest brother of Gao Zhisheng who resides in his hometown in northern Shaanxi province and who officially gave the authorization to the two lawyers Li Xiongbing and Li Subin, said: “The prison authorities said Gao Zhisheng doesn’t want to see the lawyers. This is totally false. This is because when I and his father-in-law went to Shaya Prison (at the end of) last year, they also said: “Gao Zhisheng doesn’t want to see anybody.” In March of this year, I asked Gao Zhisheng: “Did you know we went there (at the end of last year)?” He said he ‘knew nothing about it at all’. What they say is a pack of lies, wantonly deceiving people.
Q: “Now that you have heard the answers from Shaya Prison, as a family member of Gao Zhisheng who authorized the lawyers, what do you think?”
Gao Zhiyi: “Ah, I don’t know how many laws there are in China, but when it comes to Gao Zhisheng, they do whatever they want. Whatever they say is the law is the law and whatever they say is the way it is. They don’t do anything according to the legally required procedures. If they followed the law, Gao Zhisheng would have finished serving his sentence last December. After finishing his sentence, he is now serving another sentence. What new law did he break? Even we ourselves don’t know this. When it comes to Gao Zhisheng, there is no such a thing as correct application of the law or the wrong application of the law. As we ordinary people say, it’s the government that speaks nonsense. When they say something is right, it is right. When they say something is wrong, then it is wrong. As for us, what do you think we can say? What can you do?”
*Gao Zhiyi: I asked to talk to Gao Zhisheng by phone and my request was denied; family members write letters to him but get no response.*
Q: “Whether it’s the family members’ request to visit him or the attorneys’ request to meet with him, both have been denied. It’s already been more five months since you last visited him. You engaged the lawyers. As his family member, how do you feel now? What are you thinking?”
Gao Zhiyi: “What can I think? I said to the prison, ‘We are more than 2,000 miles from Shaya Prison in Xinjiang. For peasants like us, a round-trip would cost 2,000-3,000 yuan. I’d like to ask if I could talk with him by phone to learn how he is doing.’ They answered: ‘It depends on his rehabilitation progress. If it is going well, he can call. If not, then it will still not be allowed.’
“I have been in regular contact with the local government, I’ve been in touch with them several times. They said: ‘We’ve submit a report to our higher-ups for you. Your request is entirely reasonable.’ But nothing has come of it so far. They won’t even allow us to make a call to each other. It isn’t easy for us to make a trip there. And also, this is a very busy season for peasants like us. Well, there’s just no way.”
“Our feelings are very mixed. Before, he had been missing for almost two years. As the ordinary people say, ‘What they have done makes us no longer trust them.’ At this point, who knows where Gao Zhisheng might have gone? They say he is doing fine, but do we know if he’s OK or not? Never mind about ordinary people, even state leaders have relatives, who doesn’t worry about their loved ones? We worry and worry, but there’s nothing we can do. After I saw Gao Zhisheng last March, his siblings all wrote letters to him. We wrote many letters, including some letters sent by registered mail, but there has been not a single letter from him. This shows that if the letters reached the prison, we don’t know whether Gao Zhisheng himself ever received them. Because of what they did in the past, I no longer trust them. Why doesn’t he write us back?”
*Gao Zhiyi: Whatever happens, I must go to Shaya once this year, otherwise I’d feel very uneasy*
Q: “With regard to your authorization, even the lawyers couldn’t meet with him. What do you think of this?”
Gao Zhiyi: “There’s nothing I can do either. These days, whatever the government says goes. What can we ordinary people do? When they say something is reasonable, it is reasonable. When they say something is unreasonable, it is unreasonable. The law of the land is very clear, line by line, clause by clause. There’s nothing you can do. What can I do?”
Q: “What do you think your response will be, in the near term?”
Gao Zhiyi: “One thing is that the autumn harvest is about to begin. The other thing is we have had huge storms this year and we still haven’t recovered. Some of the roads between houses are still impassable, never mind thinking about traveling to far-away places. I’ll see if we have time (to travel to Shaya) in October of the lunar calendar. Whatever happens, I must go to Shaya once this year, otherwise, I’d feel very uneasy.”
Q: “May I know how old you are?”
Gao Zhiyi: “I’m 58. I want to tell you that we can’t get any kind of information about Gao Zhisheng.”
*Geng He: It is not the first time they have lied on Gao Zhisheng’s issue. I no longer believe them.*
I interviewed attorney Gao Zhisheng’s wife Geng He, who is now in America.
Q: “What do you think of the news that the two lawyers were barred from meeting with attorney Gao Zhisheng at Shaya Prison?”
Geng He: “I think scoundrels are scoundrels. I don’t pin any hopes on them. This is not the first time they have lied about Gao Zhisheng.
“After Gao Zhisheng was kidnapped on Aug. 15, 2006, we hired lawyers for Gao in September 2006. Domestic Security Protection agents came to my home time and again ‘to work on me.’ They even refused to leave until they succeeded. They came in the morning at about 8 o’clock, when I was taking my son to kindergarten, and they refused to leave. The agents said: ‘Gao Zhisheng is an attorney. He doesn’t need lawyers. Don’t hire lawyers for him.’ I said ‘I must hire lawyers for him.’ Then, a few days later, they brought me a letter written by Gao Zhisheng. In it there was this line: ‘I don’t want to hire a lawyer.’ Several months later when Gao Zhisheng came back, I verified this with Gao. I asked: ‘Did you write those words in the letter? Why?’ Gao said; ‘I did write that. If I didn’t write that I didn’t want to hire a lawyer, they wouldn’t give you three, mother and two children, money to live on.’ This is because they had already confiscated all the family’s bank cards and cash.
“So, the same thing could be happening this time. If they were to bring out a note written by Gao Zhisheng, I wouldn’t believe it because they have our man in their hands.”
*Geng He: The attorneys followed the legal procedures, the family members are fighting for their visitation rights, but my calls to Shaya Prison never go through*
Q: “Are you and the lawyers in contact now?”
Geng He: “I haven’t contacted them. Pastor Fu is in touch with them, so I haven’t contacted them.”
Q: “Right now, the family members can’t visit him and the lawyers can’t meet with attorney Gao. Do you have any thoughts or considerations?”
Geng He: “This is what I think right now: the attorneys should use the legal channels and keep going forward. We family members should keep trying to get visitation rights to go see Gao Zhisheng, while staying in touch with the attorneys.”
Q: “With regard to the visitation issue, are there any channels through which you can contact the prison to negotiate with them?”
Geng He: “No. When the family members left Shaya Prison, they asked: ‘When is the next time we can visit?’ The prison authorities said: ‘That depends on how you behave yourselves.’ We don’t know what they mean by ‘behave yourselves.’”
Q: “See how the family members behave themselves?”
Geng He: “Yes. I guess by ‘behaving yourselves,’ my understanding is they’ll see what the international response is. Or see what the family members … it means we all agree to abide by their rules, not to be interviewed, not to say this or that to the outside world…. I think they mean these things.
“They gave me a phone number and said: ‘To make an appointment for the next visit, call this number.’ I have been calling Shaya Prison ever since, but can never get through.”
* Geng He: This is the result of severe torture. I don’t believe it. They’ve deprived us of visitation rights and the right to hire attorneys. Why?*
Q: “In terms of legal rights, one is visitation rights, another is the right to petition, and there are other rights as well. It is already been more five months since the last visit. You are supposed to be able to visit once a month. Is there anything else you particularly want to mention here?”
Geng He: “If there is time, I’d like to let more people know about Gao Zhisheng’s case. Why is it that I don’t dare call Gao Zhisheng’s eldest brother? Just think, it’s the time of the autumn harvest there, it’s so busy. His eldest brother is almost 60 years hold and is in poor health. He is the only one in the family who can do physical labor. All his children are working elsewhere, so it’s just he and his wife left to handle the harvest for the whole family. Over here, I’m raising the children. I recently talked with the Amnesty International. They are planning to launch a campaign of ‘Global Support of Gao Zhisheng.’ It is mainly writing letters.
“There’s nothing I can do. On the issue of Gao Zhisheng, the authorities are all just scoundrels talking. We family members can’t get our visitation right according to the law and our right to hire attorneys is also deprived. Why is that?
“Now they have Gao Zhisheng in their hands. If they say Gao Zhisheng said something, I wouldn’t believe them because the message comes from them and it is a result out of severe torture. I don’t believe it.”
*Bob Fu: Appealing to the international community to pressure the Chinese authorities to give Gao Zhisheng his right to petition and see family members, and to pressure them to release him*
Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association spoke about Shaya Prison’s barring the lawyers from meeting with Gao Zhisheng: “We at ChinaAid have all along been monitoring [the case of] attorney Gao, from the time he “disappeared” to his being sent back to prison, we have been concerned with his safety. His family is also very worried about him and we have stayed in touch with them the entire time.”
“Such an illegal deprivation by the government of Gao Zhisheng’s right to meet with the attorneys hired by his family and even depriving him of his right to see his family, this really goes against sensibilities and common sense, and it is also a violation of Chinese law.
“Of course we appeal to the international community to continue to exert pressure on the relevant departments in China and urge China’s prison administration departments to follow the law and restore Gao Zhisheng’s rights to petition and to defend himself and to meet with his relatives.
“To the international community, attorney Gao’s case is clearly an out-and-out case of political persecution. In the context in China of what’s been called ‘actively seeking to build a society ruled by law and a harmonious society,’ we also call on China’s central government to release attorney Gao, restore his personal freedom and allow him to come to America and be reunited with his family.
“This is an appeal that we will not change. We also see that the family of attorney Gao—his wife and his children in America—all miss him very much. We will continue to closely monitor to this case and support the attorneys’ efforts on this case.
“The case of attorney Gao was one of the topics of the just-concluded U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner also made special mention of this in his briefing to non-governmental organizations before the talks. I know the EU has also discussed Gao Zhisheng’s case with the high-ranking leaders of China.
“So, this decision to bar his lawyers and family members from seeing him certainly was not made by the Prison Administration Bureau of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It should have come from departments higher up. Therefore, we should look to the central government, it’s up to them to take action, to act according to the law and to release attorney Gao.”
This Radio Free Asia show “Journey of the Soul” was produced and hosted by Zhang Min in Washington D.C.
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