Fresh calls for release of Chinese Christian lawyer
Tuesday markedthe five year anniversary of Gao Zhisheng's disappearance, after having been arrested and imprisoned for defending the rights of persecuted religious minorities in China.
The 49-year-old human rights lawyer, a Christian and two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was arrested at his home in 2009 by the Chinese authorities. He had previously had his licence revoked after being found guilty of "inciting to subvert the state power".
While undergoing interrogation for this first 'crime', Gao was tortured, which included being hit with electrified batons and having a toothpick inserted into his genitals. The government also shut down his law practice in Beijing.
He was then arrested again in February 2009, and held until he was given a three year prison sentence in 2011. He remains incarcerated in Shaya Prison in Xinjiang province.
Though his family were initially granted the right to visit Gao in prison, where he told them he was being brutally tortured by prison guards, they have not been allowed to do so for the past year. On his last visit, Gao's brother was forbidden from asking about prison conditions, and described his brother as emaciated, and as having a sore on his face.
His family are worried about the lawyer's health, and are still pursuing his release. They have, however, escaped China and fled to the US, as they were being closely monitored by the Chinese authorities and were concerned for their own safety.
Colin King, UK director of Release International which works to support and serve the international persecuted church, has echoed their concern for Gao's health and called on the Chinese authorities to revoke his sentence. "Release is urging China to set him free and allow him to return to his family," he says.
Unfortunately, Gao is not the only lawyer to be persecuted in China. Just over a week ago, Xu Zhiyong, a prominent human rights advocate who is well known for his anti-corruption and human rights campaigns, was given a four year prison sentence for "disrupting public order".
"Other Christian lawyers have also come under surveillance and intimidation," notes King.
Despite the ongoing persecution in China, Gao's family are maintaining their hope that they will soon be reunited. His wife, Geng He, recently appealed before Congress in Washington, where she urged the US government to actively seek her husband's release.
"I hope Gao's case can draw attention from President Obama and the Secretary of State. Only their attention can bring relatively stronger protection of Gao Zhisheng's safety," she said.
"Each time I left for the hearing, our son would ask me, 'Mum, where are you going?' I always said 'to search for your dad', but never accomplished my words. This New Year I told them you would receive birthday presents from your dad this year. My son was very happy for that. He told his teacher and classmates that my dad will attend my graduation ceremony this year. I hope these two wishes of our children will come true in 2014."