The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, issued a statement on Tuesday expressing concern at the sudden revocation of missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng's probation, and at proposed revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law which would provide disappearances such as his with legal backing.
We are very disturbed by reports in China's state-run media about a Beijing court's decision to replace human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s extensive period of probation with a full three-year prison sentence. Just a few days before the five-year probation period expired, the Court decided that Gao must now serve his full suspended sentence for violating the probation rules, with no credit for the time he has already spent under the control of the authorities.
For the past 20 months, Gao has been subject to strict monitoring measures by the Public Security Bureau in what appears to be a form of house arrest in an unknown location. This case is illustrative of a trend of secret detention and disappearances of human rights defenders which the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN human rights bodies have already criticized on several occasions in recent years. The High Commissioner has raised the specific case of Gao, along with a number of others, with the Chinese authorities twice in the past seven months.
In relation to this case, one provision included under proposed amendments to China’s Criminal Law Procedure, which are currently being considered by the National People's Congress, raises further concerns, as it would permit the legalization of secret detention. OHCHR is of the view that this will represent a major setback, running counter to a number of important efforts made over the past decade by the Government of China towards the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
British Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne expressed similar concerns in a statement on Wednesday:
I am deeply concerned by reports that Chinese lawyer and human rights defender Gao Zhisheng, whose probation period was due to expire this week, has been returned to prison for three years. Gao has now been missing since March 2010. I am concerned by reports that Gao has suffered torture and mistreatment, and by the apparently extra-legal nature of his detention. I repeat calls previously made by the UK Government for the Chinese authorities to provide, as a matter of urgency, information regarding Gao’s wellbeing and location.
As in the case of Chen Guangcheng, whose family members have shared his house arrest since late 2010, Gao's family has also been subjected to intense pressure by the authorities. Gao's wife, Geng He, fled to the US with their children in 2009. At The Wall Street Journal, Paul Mooney describes their escape, based on a recent interview:
Ms. Geng's story began in 2008, when a vegetable-seller slipped a note into her hand with the change. "We will protect you—don't worry," said the message, which she believes was from a member of the Falun Gong.
Matters reached a head when her daughter, Gege, now 17, was told to transfer to a new high school for her freshman year, a heavy emotional blow for the teenager. Seeing the effect of the government's campaign against Mr. Gao on the family, Ms. Geng turned to the vegetable seller asking for help. This set in motion the escape.
Shortly after, the seller told her to proceed to the Beijing West Train Station one evening. She was to take her young son Tianyu, six years old at the time. Gege was to leave on her own. Ms. Geng had no opportunity to tell her husband she was leaving. "When we left our apartment, I didn't look in any direction," she recalls. "We just left with the clothes on our backs."
Human Rights in China, meanwhile, reports the release of activist Wang Lihong following the completion of a nine-month prison sentence for "gathering a crowd to disturb social order".
Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), a well-known rights defender from Beijing, was released in the early morning of December 20 from the Chaoyang District Detention Center in Beijing, where she completed a nine-month sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Wang’s son Qi Jianxiang (齐健翔) posted a public message on Twitter Tuesday asking that those planning to greet Wang outside the detention center not go there, saying that Wang is temporarily staying “another place to recuperate for a couple of days” (暂时在别处静养一两天).
She was detained on March 21, 2011, tried by the Chaoyang District People’s Court of Beijing on August 12, and convicted on September 9. The prosecution’s charge was based on Wang’s role in organizing a protest outside a courthouse in Fujian on April 16, 2010, where the “Three Netizens,” Fan Yanqiong (范燕琼), You Jingyou (游精佑), and Wu Huaying (吴华英), were tried after they helped expose a police cover-up of a rape and a murder. The government alleged that the protest resulted in disorder inside the courtroom and traffic confusion in the area.
HRIC also notes two other recent releases, those of Zheng Yichun and Bo Xiaomao, who served seven and twelve years respectively for "inciting subversion of state power".
On his China Blues blog, Paul Mooney notes Wang's release, and translates an essay on her activism and detention by Ai Xiaoming. The following excerpt is Wang's defiant written response to official demands for a "letter of guarantee" during her three-month house arrest a year ago:
. . . [F]rom a legal point of view, making a citizen write a guarantee letter pledging to not do things that are not illegal in order to have freedom of movement is illegal and a mockery of the law.
I am a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. I have the right to live on the land of my own country and the right to freely move around.
I am a person with conscience and I cannot guarantee that I will remain silent in the face of suffering. I cannot guarantee that, when I face the stories of Qian Yunhui, Tang Fuzhen, Li Shulian . . . I will pretend not to see. . . .
If I remain silent when confronted with suffering and wickedness, then I will be the next person beaten down by evil. You as law enforcers, the restriction you place on my freedom is illegal and has seriously affected my life. I hope that law enforcement and related departments and personnel will quickly correct their illegal actions and give me back my freedom.
See also CDT coverage of Wang's trial, which her lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan claimed was distorted by a number of procedural irregularities.