China: missing human rights lawyer alive

Gao Zhisheng

Gao Zhisheng

There is confirmation today that missing Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is alive - after an international campaign by partners of Release International and other human rights groups.

Gao, who defended Christians in China, who was abducted by the authorities in February 2009, has spoken to his wife and children for the first time since his detention.

Release International partner China Aid has confirmed the phone call to his family was genuine. It follows a concerted campaign calling on the Chinese authorities to declare whether Gao was dead or alive and to release him.

The campaign included the production of a video detailing the brutal torture he had received during previous interrogations. The video, produced by China Aid, was based upon an open letter to the Chinese authorities written by Gao and authorised for release to the international community.

Last week, Release and Christian Solidarity Worldwide co-hosted a news conference showing the video detailing the torture Gao had endured under interrogation. Leading Chinese dissident Bob Fu and a Beijing human rights lawyer also addressed members of parliament in the UK and Northern Ireland in a bid to increase pressure on the Chinese authorities.

On Sunday Gao spoke to his wife and children for the first time in more than a year, and also gave a brief statement to reporters. He claimed to have been released six months ago and was now living in a Buddhist retreat on Wutai Shan mountain in Shanxi province.

Release partner Bob Fu confirmed the phone call was from Gao but said he sounded weak and in poor health.

'The pressure seems to have paid off,' says Release CEO Andy Dipper. 'We're delighted to receive confirmation that Gao is still alive. But there are still many questions that still need to be answered.

'When a fellow lawyer asked to visit him, Gao refused to give details of his whereabouts, saying he had "friends around him" - indicating he is still under close surveillance by the Chinese authorities.

'If he was released six months ago, why has it taken so long for him to get in touch with his family and other human rights lawyers? And if he is really free, why hasn't he been able to leave China and join his family in the United States?'

Bob Fu added: 'Yesterday's events happened as a result of international pressure. But Gao is still not free yet. His movements are being watched and monitored. He is not free to speak publicly or without surveillance.'

Gao was arrested after defending leaders of the house church movement and practitioners of the banned movement Falun Gong. He was described by the New York Times as  'one of China's most high-profile human rights lawyers.'

Release and its partners are now calling on China to allow Gao Zhisheng to join his family, who have sought refuge in the United States. '124,000 people in 180 countries signed a petition calling for Gao's freedom,' said Andy Dipper. 'We must keep up the international pressure until Gao is really free to be reunited with his family.'

Through its international network of missions Release supports Christians imprisoned for their faith and their families in 30 nations. It supports church workers, pastors and their families, and provides training, Bibles, Christian literature and broadcasts. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.

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