RFA: Will Gao Zhisheng be truly free after serving his sentence in prison?

Radio Free Asia
By Zhang Min, program host of “Journey of the Soul” on July 12, 2014)
Translated by China Aid

Gao Zhisheng is going to finish serving his 8-year sentence, including three years in prison and five years’ probation. His family asked to pick him up from prison, but was told that the prison would need to communicate with Beijing first.

In 2006, Chinese rights defense lawyer Gao Zhisheng was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to three years in prison with five years’ probation. Now his 8-year sentence is winding up.

On July 3, Gao’s wife, Geng He, who currently lives in the U.S., told me that Gao’s relatives in his hometown in northern Shaanxi province got through to Xinjiang Shaya Prison by phone and got some updates on Gao’s situation.

Gao Zhizheng

Geng He said, “I talked to his older brother on the phone last night. He said that he finally got through to Shaya Prison by phone and asked, ‘When can you allow us to visit Gao Zhisheng?’ The person answering the call said, ‘No need to come to visit him. He will be released on Aug. 7 after finishing his time in prison.’

“His older brother said, ‘But we still need to pick him up from prison.’ The person said, ‘The prison will need to communicate with Beijing about the specifics of his release. You just wait for further notice at home.’ That’s all we’ve heard so far.”

Geng He: After his release, Gao Zhisheng has the right to decide where to go next. It’s totally unacceptable if the police and Beijing control him again.

Host: “How do you feel about his pending release?”

Geng He: “Of course, I’m very happy. At least we have a specific date that he will be released on—Aug. 7. Before that, we didn’t even know when he would come home.

“But I’m also wondering if, after three years in prison with five years’ probation, [after] he will have served eight years, he’ll be a free man and come home on Aug. 7. Where does he want to go next? I think Gao Zhisheng and his family have the right to decide. It should not be decided and controlled by the police or prison after communicating with Beijing. I think that’ll be absolutely unacceptable.”

A brief introduction of Gao Zhisheng and his case

Fifty-year-old Gao Zhisheng served as a defense counsel in the Cai Zhuohua Case and cases involving Falun Gong practitioners and (local people trying to protect their interest in) oil fields in northern Shaanxi province. From December 2004 to December 2005, Gao Zhisheng wrote three open letters to China’s top leaders demanding that they stop persecuting Falun Gong adherents. In November 2005, the Shengzhi Law Firm of Beijing, of which he was the director, was shut down by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice.

On Aug. 15, 2006, Gao was kidnapped by the police. On Dec. 22, 2006, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to three years in prison with five years’ probation, and deprived of political rights for one year. He was sent back home. In Sept. 2007, Gao Zhisheng was once again taken into custody. After his release, his article “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia” was disseminated. In it, he describes the tortures he was subjected to during his detention, including the insertion of toothpicks into his genitals.

Gao Zhisheng won the American Board of Trial Advocates’ Courageous Advocacy Award as well as other human rights awards.

Before dawn on Feb. 4, 2009, in his hometown in northern Shaanxi province, Gao was kidnapped by the police right in front of his relatives. In late March and early April 2010, he resurfaced for about 10 days and then disappeared again.

In early 2009, Gao’s wife and children fled China. They were later granted political refugee status and settled in the United Sates.

Just as Gao’s five-year probation period was about to end and he had been forced into “disappearance” for 21 months, he was sent back to jail in Xinjiang Shaya Prison to serve his three-year prison sentence. On March 24, 2012, after he had disappeared for 21 months and was detained for three more months, his family saw him for the first time in two years, but they were not able to contact the prison directly after that. It was not until Jan. 12, 2012, when his family was allowed to have the second prison visit. Eighteen months have passed since that visit and his family has been denied visits to him to this day.

Geng He: His family has been pressured lately. His older brother said, ‘We are under lots of pressure. We don’t want our life ruined.’

In the afternoon of July 8 (American EDT), I interviewed Geng He again to talk about her feelings and the pressure imposed on Gao Zhisheng’s relatives in his hometown by the government.

Geng He said, “Certainly I hope… his relatives want to see him as soon as he’s released and they have prepared clothes for him, from underwear to outer garments, and made all arrangements to pick him up. I believe he will want to see his family members upon his release. But in the past few days, his relatives have felt pressured. For example, yesterday, which is July 7, I wanted to ask his younger brother for updates on his release, but his younger brother did not answer my call.

“I got through to his older brother. He said, “My goodness, we’re under so much pressure. We don’t want our life ruined. Runhui (Gao Zhisheng’s birth name) is such a strong man, but he still got thrown in jail and persecuted. How can peasants like us handle the persecution he suffered? We are more vulnerable.’ He wanted me to understand their circumstances.”

Gao Zhiyi: The authorities told us to ‘wait for further notice.’ Don’t ask me questions. I can’t tell you anything.

I called Gao Zhisheng’s older brother Gao Zhiyi at their hometown in northern Shaanxi province to ask about the phone call he had made to Shaya Prison a few days ago.

Gao Zhiyi: “I called them to get some information.”

Host: “Has it been a week since you made the call?”

Gao Zhiyi: “It’s slightly over than a week.”

Host: “What did they tell you?”

Gao Zhiyi: “They told us to wait for further notice. They would notify us. That’s it. Don’t ask me anything now. I’ll ask them when it comes time.”

Host: “When are you going to ask them?”

Gao Zhiyi: “I’ll wait half a month. I know you have been concerned about Gao Zhisheng for many years and trying to help him. But, (sigh) I can’t tell you anything now.”

Above is my conversation with Mr. Gao Zhiyi in the evening of July 8 (Beijing time).

Geng He: His relatives are supposed to be happily making arrangements to pick up Gao Zhisheng, but their reactions now are very unusual.

Geng He said, “I guess he got pressured by the authorities since I put the news of Gao Zhisheng’s pending release on Twitter. Or he would have answered my phone as he always does.

“After I called his sister in February this year, the local police said to his sister, ‘If you answer Geng He’s call again, your two daughters will lose their jobs.’ So his sister changed her phone number. I don’t know her new number because I have never called her since then. Later, when I called his brother, he told me that ‘sister changed her phone number.’ He related to me the reason behind it and said, ‘Don’t be mad at her.’

“They must have got pressure from the authorities. If not, why is their response to Gao Zhisheng’s release so abnormal? I think they should be happily making preparations for his release, preparing his favorite food, wanting to go pick him up when he’s released, and making arrangements for the trip… That should be the normal response.

“But now their response is very unusual.”

Geng He: If his older brother can’t go pick him up because of too much pressure from the authorities, I want my father to go see him as soon as he’s released.

Host: “Given such circumstances, what are your thoughts?”

Geng He: “I still hope that family members will go see him upon his release, whether the authorities notify them or not. They told us that Gao Zhisheng would be released on Aug. 7 and our family members have the right to go pick him up and see him upon his release. If his older brother can’t make it because of too much pressure from the authorities, I will make all efforts to send my dad to pick him up. This is my thought. Since I can’t go there to see him upon his release, I want my family to do it in my behalf. I suppose my father is willing to go, but I’m afraid the police may not let him.”

Geng He: Our children’s dialogue with the “8 Ball” and more—looking forward to their father’s return.

Host: “How did your children respond to their father’s pending release?”

Geng He: “My daughter was thrilled. On Independence Day last Friday, she said, ‘Mom, let’s buy some clothes for dad.’ So we went shopping and bought some clothes for Gao Zhisheng, plus some vitamins and nutrient supplements. I will ask friends who go back to China to bring them to Gao Zhisheng.

“My son was also very excited. He took some [afterschool] classes and accumulated some credits. He worked very hard to save up more than 300 credits and bought a [Magic] 8-Ball.” He told me, ‘This magic ball can answer any question you bring to it, and it has eight percent accuracy with its answers. That’s why it’s called 8-Ball.’

“I said, ‘What do you want to ask it?’

“He picked up the ball, shook it, and said, ‘Magic ball, magic ball, I have a question for you. Will my dad come home on Aug. 7?’ The ball replied in English, ‘Why not?’ It’s a rhetorical question, which means the answer is positive. My son was very happy hearing that.

“Later that night, he told his sister about the 8-Ball and said, ‘What question would you like to ask the ball? Let’s test again if the ball will give us the right answer.’

“I was cooking at that time. I heard his sister ask the same question as his, ‘Will dad come home on Aug. 7?’ The ball said, ‘Definitely.’ It gave a positive answer again.

“When I picked up my son from school, he said, ‘Mom, you know my sister downloaded software on her iPad. It tells her every day how many days are left before dad comes home. Shall we download that software on our iPad as well?’ I said, ‘Sure. You go ahead do it. Mom doesn’t know how to download it.’

“I notice that recently all my children talk and do are about their dad’s release.”

Geng He: My son often tells me, ‘Mom, I don’t remember my dad’s voice and how he speaks.’

Geng He: “I do not have the guts to tell my son that ‘It’s 100 percent certain that your dad will come home on Aug. 7’ because I’m afraid that if something beyond our control comes up or the Communist government interferes with his release, my son will be devastated.

“I only hinted that ‘At least you will be able to talk to your dad on the phone and receive a present from him on your birthday.’ I just left it at that. At least, after his release, Gao Zhisheng will be able to talk to our children on the phone or have a video chat with them to refresh their memory of their father’s voice and face. Otherwise, they will forget what he looks like.

“My son once says, ‘Mom, I can’t recall my dad’s voice and the way he speaks. I just don’t remember no matter how hard I try.’ Tianyu often says this to me.”

Host: “How old was Tianyu when he was separated from his dad?”

Geng He: “He was five.”

Geng He: If the authorities do not allow family members to pick him up, I hope the international society will do something about it.

Geng He said, “I also want to say that, if this goes on and family members receive more and more pressure and are not allowed to pick him up upon his release, I hope the international society will do something about it.

“If the pressure is too much for family members to bear … if I’m in China, I will overcome any obstacle to go see him as soon as he’s released. (sobbing) I just feel that on the day he gets his freedom, I’ll be consumed with joy when I welcome him home. I feel like… I want to throw him a party! But I can’t go back to China. How can I leave my children behind? I brought them over here. How can I leave them here and go back to China?”

Geng He: Gege cut her wrist because the authorities did not allow her to go to school. I was torn between my children and Gao Zhisheng.

Geng He said, “We had a happy family and a good life. We didn’t want to leave Gao Zhisheng in any circumstances.

“At that time, (the authorities) did not allow Gege, [our daughter], to go to school. She stayed at home and was distraught. One day, I told her to ‘go outside and walk around for some fun.’ She said, ‘For some fun? What fun? It’s school time. If I wander around and get asked why I’m not in school, what am I supposed to say?’

“On night, when her father went to her room to get something, he saw her cut her arm with a small knife, like an eyebrow razor, and blood was flowing out. She stared at the blood with a blank look on her face.

“Gao Zhisheng told me about it. We were broken-hearted. No pain is greater than the pain caused by forbidding kids to go to school. Because of that, I thought, in order for my daughter to go to school, I had to do something. I did what every parent would do for their children.

“While Gao Zhisheng was in great trials, I think the only support I could give him is to be with him and by his side day in and day out. But there was no way I could support him while taking care of my children, so I brought my children to America. That means I’m not able to be in close proximity with Gao Zhisheng.

“In late 2011, the Communist authorities told foreign media ‘Gao Zhisheng’s probation has ended and he will be sent to prison in next three years.’ When I heard the news, my first thought was, ‘If I didn’t have children, I would rent a place in the small town where his prison is located and I would go [ask to] see him every day until his release, pick him up and bring him home.’”

Geng He: Please monitor Gao Zhisheng’s release. Thanks to friends for paying close attention to Gao Zhisheng in his trials in the past eight years.

Geng He said, “Aug. 7 is coming up. Because of my children, I can’t go pick him up from prison upon his release. My heart is troubled that his older brother, younger brother and other family members have received great pressure recently and are not allowed to pick him up.

“I hope if it’s possible that friends who want to see Gao Zhisheng or those not too far away from Xinjiang, can go pick him up. I hope they can go to prison on Aug. 7 to welcome Gao Zhisheng home. If that’s not possible, at least express your concern about him and welcome him home on the Internet or Twitter. I hope something can be done to at least warm his heart.

“I wish to share with you all the great news of his pending release. Let’s embrace him and welcome him home. I’m very thankful that in the past eight years of his ordeal, many friends have been paying close attention to him! Thank you for paying attention to him in the past eight years! “

Xiqui “Bob” Fu: Attorney Gao was falsely convicted and sentenced. It is utterly unacceptable if the authorities continue to limit his freedom after he has served his prison term.

Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, a non-profit organization in the U.S., who has been monitoring the circumstances of attorney Gao Zhisheng and his family, is on a business trip.

On July 11, he received an interview in which he talked about the news Gao Zhisheng’s family had received from Shaya Prison, the circumstances of his relatives in China, and their requests.

Bob Fu said, “Ms. Geng He called me and communicated with me about the news she heard from Gao Zhisheng’s older brother and her concerns. I think with five years’ probation and three years’ imprisonment, attorney Gao has finished serving his prison sentence. He should be released according to the law of China.

“But the many things done to attorney Gao’s family by the authorities seem to show that Beijing may be up for something, such as limiting Gao’s freedom or even depriving him of freedom for a longer time, which will be utterly unacceptable.

“Either from the angle of the theory of law or the fabricated charges imposed on attorney Gao, this is a falsely convicted case. He was forced into disappearance, imprisoned and suffered for a long time in Xinjiang Shaya Prison, and what has happened to him in the prison [has] never [been] disclosed to the outside world. I think it is a very basic request that he have a reunion with his family, his wife, and his children, whom he hasn’t seen for many years. I’m sure attorney Gao, as a husband and a father, must be looking forward to the day of family reunion.”

Bob Fu: Be prepared for all possibilities and fight for attorney Gao’s freedom and his right to reunite with his family.

Bob Fu: “Therefore, I think if the authorities pull some strings illegally to limit attorney Gao’s freedom and prevent him from reuniting with him family, it will provoke a greater response than ever before.

“Our organization, China Aid Association, is making preparations for all possibilities, and we’re going to fight for attorney Gao’s freedom and his right to reunite with his family. We have started to take actions in the domains of diplomacy, media, and networking with other non-governmental organizations.

Bob Fu: The authorities violated the law and humanitarianism in many areas during Gao Zhisheng’s three-year imprisonment. His family members have the right to pick him up upon his release, and he has the right to decide where to go next.

Bob Fu said, “During the three years of attorney Gao’s imprisonment, he was only allowed two brief visits by his family, and every time there was someone watching them. Even his lawyers Li Xiongbing and Li Subing were denied visits. Such practices of the authorities have violated the law, basic human rights, and the regulations on the management of prisons in China.

“If he has served five years’ probation and three years’ prison term and yet his family members are not allowed to meet him upon his release from prison—if such basic human ethical needs and requests cannot be met, I think it’s utterly not acceptable.

“Ms. Geng He’s request is valid. As a wife and mother, her husband went through numerous sufferings, including torture, random detention, random disappearance, many years’ suffering of family members… And now, such a small request from his family based on the most basic human ethical standards, should be fulfilled.

“Family member go pick him up and look after him in case he developed health problems in prison, I think this is the most basic request according to human ethics.

“This is also a basic right of Chinese citizens. As a result of the so-called ‘release after serving the prison sentence in full,’ I think he gets to choose where to live, whether he wants to live in his hometown, or go to Beijing, or live in Xinjiang. At least this decision should be made by attorney Gao himself after discussing with his family. As long as his decision is made out of his own will in the state of freedom, it will be honored by all of us.

“If, like before, he is forced to stay at a certain place, it will make people more skeptical that the so-called release is just the authorities’ new method to keep him imprisoned, only in a different location.

“So I think Geng He’s request is very reasonable and legitimate.

“The international society should and will definitely monitor what decision attorney Gao will make after his release. This decision must be made in the circumstance of him being completely free. Neither the prison nor other Chinese government agencies have the right to make a decision for him.”

Bob Fu: The rule of law in China is backsliding significantly. Further restrictions on Gao Zhisheng’s freedom will infuriate the whole world.

Bob Fu said, “Given that the overall rule of law in China has been taking a significant backslide in the past few months, we are deeply concerned about attorney Gao’s situation. I believe that tens and thousands of people throughout the world are hoping for his freedom and will continue to monitor his situation as well.

“In August, if the authorities continue to force him into ‘disappearance’ or take actions to limit his freedom, it will cause an angry response from the whole world.

“Recently, some influential non-profit organizations in Britain and some foreign media approached me about this case, and they are all very concerned about attorney Gao’s pending release in August. I shared with them what I’d heard from Gao’s family, including Shaya Prison’s response that they would ‘need to take orders from Beijing’ and their forbidding of Gao’s family to pick him up from the prison upon his release.

“Many people across the globe care about attorney Gao. I have attended meetings in more than a dozen of different regions in America this year, big or small, and every time when I spoke at a meeting, many American people in the audience would ask, ‘How is brother Gao doing?’ ‘How is attorney Gao doing?’ They are all anticipating his release.”

The interview, editing, and hosting involved in the above episode of “Journey of the Soul” by Radio Free Asia was conducted and produced by Zhang Min in Washington D.C.

China Aid Contacts

Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Website: www.chinaaid.org
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