Published: 10:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 24 August 2011
Fears for missing Christian lawyer in China
Country/Region: South and East Asia, China
The family of a missing Chinese Christian lawyer fear that he may have been killed by the authorities after his probationary sentence expired but there remains no news of his whereabouts.
has not been seen since April 2010
Image source: www.voanews.com
Gao Zhisheng (45) was arrested and convicted of subversion in 2006 after taking on a series of cases in which he defended the rights of China’s unregistered churches (“house churches”) and members of another outlawed religious group.
During his five-year probationary sentence, Gao has disappeared six times; on each occasion, he has reportedly been detained and tortured. He has been missing since April 2010, and repeated enquiries to the Chinese authorities have been met with no response.
Gao’s family was desperately hoping to be reunited with him when his court sentence expired on 14 August. But they have heard no news of his whereabouts and fear that he is either being held in a secret location or has been killed.
His older brother Gao Zhiyi said:
He should be released. Our biggest concern now is whether he is still alive. I am worried they have already murdered him. Otherwise why should his family not be told anything about him?
Gao’s wife and two children fled to the United States for their own safety in 2009. The US State Department has repeatedly raised his case with the Chinese government, and last week European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek called for his release.
In a moving letter to the US Congress last month, Gao’s wife, Geng He, wrote:
I am suffering deeply and full of worries. As a wife, I have no clue where my husband is. When my children ask, 'Where is daddy?' I have no answer. My septuagenarian parents ask me from time to time, 'Any news of him?' The pain is like thousands of arrows piercing my heart and I often am unable to eat or sleep.
Self-taught Gao was formerly celebrated in his homeland, where he was named as one of China’s top ten lawyers by the Ministry of Justice in 2001. But he fell out of favour when he began speaking out for religious freedom. His work for human rights in the country has attracted international acclaim; he has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Other prominent Christian figures in China are also under pressure from the authorities. Dr Fan Yafeng, leader of the Chinese Christian Human Rights Lawyers Association, is under house arrest and is subject to constant harassment from the police. And Pastor Shi Enhao, Deputy Chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, is beginning a two year sentence in a labour camp for organising unregistered church gatherings.