Did Gao Zhisheng die under torture in detention?

Published on 5 February 2010

Reporters Without Borders calls on the Chinese authorities to produce evidence that detained human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, of whom there has been no news since 4 February 2009, is still alive.

“We fear the worst,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities must provide his relatives with proof that he is still alive. They must give the family details about his current place of detention and must allow his wife to have direct contact with him.”

The press freedom organisation added: “If anything has happened to him while in detention, the authorities will be held responsible and those who had a direct hand in it must be identified and punished. The uncertainty about his fate has gone on long enough.”

After being sentenced for the first time to three years in prison in 2006, he was released and then rearrested several times. He was arrested for the last time in his home in Shaanxi by Public Security Department officials on 4 February 2009. When later asked what had happened to him, the police said he “disappeared” in September 2009.

As a defence attorney, Gao’s clients included Zheng Yichun, a journalist and former professor who was sentenced in 2005 to seven years in prison because of what he had written. Recognised by the justice ministry as “one of the country’s 10 best lawyers” in 2001, Gao also defended members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and Cai Zhohua, a protestant pastor who was given a three-year sentence for printing and distributing bibles.

He was one of a group of activists (including Hua Jia) who staged a rotating hunger strike for human rights in 2006. Participants in a total of 29 provinces and abroad took it in turns to fast for 24 hours. Several of them were arrested.

In an open letter written in November 2007 and published in February 2009, he described one of the torture sessions he underwent as follows: “ ‘Gao Zhisheng! You mother****er! Your date with death is today! Brothers! Let’s show the bastard how brutal we can get. Kill the bastard.’ A leader of the group screamed. Then, four men with electric batons started to beat my head and body with ferocity. Nothing but the noise of the beating and my moaning could be heard in the room. I was beaten so severely that my whole body began shaking uncontrollably on the floor.”