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Wife of Disappeared Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Urges International Attention

December 22, 2011

On December 20, Human Rights in China spoke with Geng He (耿和), wife of the Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), whose prosecution, torture, and disappearances by the Chinese authorities have gained worldwide attention and concern. In the interview, Geng He reacts to the latest official action against her husband, a revocation of Gao’s five-year sentence suspension that has put Gao back in prison, and provides fresh details on the ordeal that various family members have endured since 2006, including threats, taunts, and lies from various Chinese authorities, and describes the last phone contact she had with Gao, on April 17, 2010, before his disappearance since. (Geng He and their two children escaped China in early 2009, and arrived in the United States in March 2009, where they now live.)

Gao, an advocate of constitutional reform who represented politically sensitive cases, including Falun Gong practitioners and other rights defense lawyers, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” on December 22, 2006, and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and one year of post-release deprivation of political rights. He was also granted a five-year sentence suspension, a form of probation that allowed him to stay outside of prison under strict supervision and required that he report on his activities and seek permission for receiving visitors and traveling from his home base.

While serving his suspended sentence, Gao was kidnapped and detained for more than 50 days in September-November 2007, during which he was brutally tortured as detailed in a graphic account that he later published; in early February 2009, he was forcibly taken away from his home in Xiaoshibanqiao Village, Shaanxi Province; in April 2010, he briefly appeared in the Chinese media—in scenes that were obviously stage-managed—renouncing his rights activities. His family has heard nothing more from him since that time, more than 20 months ago.

On December 16, 2011, just six days before the expiration of Gao’s five-year sentence suspension, Chinese authorities, through a brief story in English issued by Xinhua, the official news agency, revoked the suspension. The Xinhua news story, citing a statement by the Beijing Municipal First Intermediate People’s Court (which HRIC has not been able to locate on the Internet), said that the reason for the revocation was that Gao “had seriously violated probation rules for a number of times, which led to the court decision to withdraw the probation.” Geng He said that neither she nor any other member of the family has received any official notification from the Chinese authorities regarding the revocation.

The following is the edited transcript of HRIC’s interview with Geng He.

HRIC Interview with Geng He

December 20, 2011

Edited Transcript
English translation by Human Rights in China

HRIC: Gao Zhisheng was recently put in prison to serve his three-year sentence just as his sentence suspension was about to expire. What are your feelings about this?

Geng He: I am enraged. I have to say that Gao Zhisheng is innocent. Because he only said what any Chinese person with a conscience should say and did what a lawyer with a conscience should do, the Chinese government shut down his law office and revoked his license to practice. On August 15, 2006, they illegally arrested him, and then sentenced him to three years in jail with a five-year suspension for “inciting subversion of state power.” He had to obey relevant rules during the sentence suspension: He had to report to the local police substation if he wanted to go anywhere, telling them where he was going, for how long, and when he’d return. The substation authorities would have to report to their superiors, who would report all the way up to the authorities at the Ministry of Public Security, who would then send people to follow him. When he’d return, the substation would need us to report that, and come to our home to inspect. So, in fact, he has always been in their hands. But in these past two, three years, when we asked them where he was, they said they didn’t know. Isn’t he in their line of sight? They still say that they don’t know. If that’s true, then they’re being negligent. Now they’re saying that he has violated the rules of his suspension, but just which ones? And even if he did violate them, why didn’t they notify his family? We just don’t get it. They didn’t notify his family or follow any sort of legal procedure, nothing. They’re just trying to fool us. 

We’ve been unable to get any information on Gao’s situation these past years, and the police continue to fool us. We’re extremely worried that something has in fact happed to him. Earlier, we heard rumors that he had been persecuted to death in prison, and we were on edge for days. That’s why we demand to see him if he is alive, and see his body if he is dead. Just where is he? We want to see who has been persecuting him. [I fear that] they have persecuted him to beyond recognition, and that they are transferring him to another prison in order to cover up any news about him.

In addition, his family needs to receive a written notice from the government, and needs to see him in person. Gao Zhisheng has the right to retain a lawyer, and I hope that a lawyer can intervene in this case so that it can be transparent.

HRIC: When was the last time that you had contact with Gao Zhisheng?

Geng He: At the end of March and the beginning of April 2010. I spoke with him a few times by phone—I called him. I used the number that the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group in Hong Kong gave me that they said [they found] online. The first time I spoke with him, he said he was at home in Beijing. I told him, “I saw in your photo [in the news] that your teeth aren’t good, you should get them looked at.” He said nothing. I asked, “Why haven’t you had them checked out?” and he said that he didn’t have a phone number, so I helped him find a dentist’s number. I said, “You need to make an appointment right away,” and he replied, “Oh, I’ll see a dentist when it is convenient.” And then I knew that he wasn’t free. He didn’t have the option to see a doctor. 

I spoke with him several times, but then the number stopped working. I called his brothers and said, “It’s already been more than ten days since I spoke with him.”  They didn’t know anything either. I called his sister several times in Shandong at that time, but her phone was always shut off. Then I called his younger brother. His phone was also shut off. This was something that had never happened before. I called his older brother, but he never picked up. His wife answered my calls a number of times, but I didn’t understand what she was saying. In the end I had no choice but to call his distant cousin. She said that her family had been tormented beyond words and hoped that I understood.

HRIC: Has the family been notified of why Gao Zhisheng has been imprisoned?

Geng He: The night before Xinhua released this news, Gao Zhisheng’s sister in Shandong received a call from the local police. They asked, “Has your brother gone to see you?” She was furious: “Don’t you have him? How could you come to me to look for him?” Then the security department where her husband worked went to him and conducted a security check, which he thought was very strange. After Xinhua’s story came out, his sister was contacted by the media. The Shandong police summoned her and told her, “Your brother had a suspended sentence previously, but now he’s in prison. Shouldn’t you be relieved? Don’t accept any more interviews.”

HRIC: Last year, Gao Zhisheng disappeared after he went to Xinjiang to see your father. Have you spoken with your father since then? What actually happened?

Geng He: I have not spoken to my father, but I got information from my older sister. Gao Zhisheng spent a few days in Xinjiang at that time, around early April last year, but he only spent one night there [at my parents’ home]. The first day, Gao Zhisheng went to my mother’s home. When he arrived, the whole family was so excited that they just talked with him the whole night and did not sleep. The public security officers from Beijing and the local police were also at my mother’s home—they were everywhere, upstairs, downstairs, and in the yard. The family was under great pressure. Gao Zhisheng talked with the family for the whole night. At dawn, the public security officers wanted to take him away and Gao left with them. As he was leaving, Gao said this to comfort the family, "I will go with them." He meant to put my family at ease. In fact, Gao was forced to go with them, because the police did not want him to stay [at my parents’] home.

Because of his limited time in Xinjiang, I did not call him at that time. My last call with my husband was on April 17 [2010]. When he was about to board the airplane to leave Xinjiang, I called my parents’ home and my older sister told me that I should call him right away because he was getting on the plane. We called him and he said he was at the airport now and that he should shut down his cell. I said fine. About four to five hours later, when I called him again, I was not able to get through anymore.

Why do I remember it was April 17? Because that day was our daughter Gege’s birthday. Gege said, “Mom, I am 17 years old now and I have a big decision [to make].” I asked what decision. She said, “The news about father can cure my emotional problems, and I want to dismiss my doctor.” Then, I accompanied her to the hospital to do this. Gao Zhisheng's birthday is April 20. We usually miss his birthday, so every year when we celebrate our daughter’s birthday, we would say “Happy Birthday” to her father as well. On that day when we celebrated Gege’s birthday, we called her father but [at first] we were unable to get through, and then we chased him to the airport. After that, we have been unable to get through any longer.

Since then, our family and Gao Zhisheng lost contact. Not to mention talking on the phone, we didn’t even have a shred of information. Not only do we not have information, the public security constantly tried to fool us. Take September this year, when American Vice President Biden visited China, public security officials in Xinjiang told my father, “Gao Zhisheng is free.” My father was so happy to hear this that he immediately called [Gao Zhisheng’s] older sister in Shandong. His sister said it wasn’t true, and that if there was news, she would notify him first. When my father found out that the news was fake, he couldn’t take it and stopped being able to walk. He was taken to the hospital and stayed there for 15 days. Now my father cannot go up the stairs, and can’t go up the mountain. Before this, my father used to climb Hongkuang Mountain every day to pray for Gao’s safety. Each trip took about three hours; now he can’t climb anymore. They don’t speak a word of truth, but instead do their best to create fake news.

The authorities are always trying to fool us. In March 2010, Gao Zhisheng went to his family home [in Shaanxi] before heading to Xinjiang. Officials from the Ministry of Public Security called his oldest brother the day before that saying, “You always ask us for him. We didn’t even know that he’s actually at Wutai Mountain.” Then, the following day, Gao Zhisheng returned home and arrived with a Taoist priest from Wutai Mountain. In fact, it was a policeman pretending to be a priest. Why do I say this? It is because at the time, vehicles from the Ministry of Public Security were parked in a nearby village. The Taoist priest left a business card with us and said to contact him if anything happened. It wasn’t long after he returned that Gao Zhisheng disappeared again. After his disappearance, his oldest brother thought of this [the business card], and called the number and asked, “Are you the Taoist priest that came to our house?” The person who answered the phone said, “No. This is the Ministry of Public Security.” It then dawned on him, and he yelled, “Liar! Liar!” His oldest brother didn’t tell me at the time, but told us only recently. But an official from the Ministry of Public Security wearing a Taoist priest’s clothes to deceive people, you tell me, is this a government? This is totally the tactic of an organized crime syndicate; normal people would never think of doing this.

HRIC: One more question, we can’t find Gao Zhisheng’s verdict online. When the verdict was released, did you ever get a copy of it?

Geng He: After Gao Zhisheng was convicted, we got a copy of the verdict, but I didn’t read it. I didn’t pay much attention to it; we kept it at home. It was about seven to eight pages long.  At the time, we hired Mo Shaoping (莫少平) as defense counsel, but the government wouldn’t allow it and appointed two other lawyers for him. They never contacted us. We’ve never met them and don’t know who they are.

I went to court the day his verdict was announced. But nobody told us when he was tried. I found out about it through the news. I was very angry, so I tried to make a huge ruckus at home. Downstairs, officials were keeping watch on us, and they didn’t do anything about it. Then I threw some pots and pans and bowls down [out the window].  Afterwards, an official from the Ministry of Public Security came. I said, “You had a trial and didn’t let me know. I am going to set my house on fire, so that my whole family can die.” Then, they told me, “Okay, okay, okay, there will be another announcement, we will notify you.” On the date of the announcement, they picked me up and took me directly to the court, but wouldn’t let me in. It wasn’t until they were reading the verdict that they let me in.

HRIC: The report from Xinhuastated that Gao Zhisheng violated related regulations. To your knowledge, what regulations could he have violated?

Geng He: What regulations could my husband violate under constant government surveillance! From April 17, 2010, to today, my family members have been looking for him. We have had no peace of mind, and nobody could tell us what happened exactly. Where is he being held? What is his condition? I hope the international community and media would ask the Chinese government what regulations Gao Zhisheng actually violated. The person is in their hands, what regulations could he violate? Is it he or they who violated regulations? Are they violating their own laws and regulations? On what basis did the government revoke the sentence suspension and then put him back in jail? I don’t know at all! Now the situation is getting more and more confusing, isn’t it?

HRIC: In a few days it will be Christmas and New Year, a time when one misses one’s family the most. What do you and your children want to say to Gao Zhisheng?

Geng He: Actually, this news about him really has made our bad situation worse. In the past years, we purposely avoided holidays. It is at the sight of the holiday atmosphere, when we see the stores decorated, that we realize the holiday season is upon us. However, without news of our loved ones, we are in no mood to celebrate. The news this year is worse than it was in the past. This holiday doesn’t belong to us. The children are still young. I didn’t tell them.

The Chinese government’s persecution and torture of my husband, and their keeping the family in the dark are absolute violations of international human rights conventions, and breaches of their own laws. They use their own laws as a fig leaf, look down on their own laws, and want to fool us.

If I can really get in touch with my husband, I want to tell him, after all the torment of all these years, to please go see a doctor immediately, pay respects to his late mother, and see my parents. At home, everyone’s heart is broken upon hearing this news. Over the past two days, his younger brother in Shandong Province called us many times and is very worried; this has never happened before. And his phone has been turned off and I haven’t been able to reach him.

HRIC: The international community is very concerned about Gao Zhisheng’s situation. Different human rights organizations have also tried different ways to help him. Can you talk about how you want the international community to help you?

Geng He: I hope the international media can truthfully report on my husband’s case and let more people know about his situation, so as to help my husband regain his freedom. I hope you will convey to me any international media interview requests. I need to explain the situation precisely and clearly, to let more people know. I hope the international community can put pressure on the Chinese government, to help my husband regain his freedom. He is not guilty, and the Chinese government should release him immediately.

HRIC: Thank you for speaking with us. Please take care of yourself.

For more information on Gao Zhisheng and Geng He, see:

Gao Zhisheng’s account of his September 2007 kidnapping and torture:

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