On January 12, 2013, two family members of the imprisoned rights defense lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) were permitted to visit Gao at Shaya Prison in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, according to Gao’s wife Geng He (耿和). This was the first family visit since March 24, 2012, and the only confirmation since that date that Gao is still alive. Gao’s younger brother and Geng He’s father were allowed to see Gao and speak with him by phone through a glass window.
The following information about the January 12, 2013 visit is based on a phone conversation between Human Rights in China (HRIC) and Geng He.
Before being allowed to see Gao, his younger brother was subjected to a body search and told that, during the visit, he was not allowed to discuss Gao’s case, Gao’s prison situation, or Geng He and their two children, who are in the United States, or to accept press interviews after the visit.
Gao’s mind seemed clear and he spoke normally. His younger brother was not able to find out when Gao is scheduled to be released, or whether he received the letters from his wife and children.
When Gao’s brother asked when Gao is permitted to see his family next, he was told that the family has to “follow old ways.” Geng He said, “Last time, it took nine months for the authorities to allow the family to see Gao in prison. How long will it take next time?”
Although the frequency of family visits is not stipulated by law, normally prison inmates are permitted monthly family visits.
Geng He calls upon the international community to continue to pay close attention to Gao’s case and to press the Chinese government to justify his incarceration.
Gao’s case has received wide international attention in recent years. An advocate of constitutional reform who represented politically sensitive cases, including Falun Gong practitioners, Gao 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 that allowed him to stay outside of prison under strict supervision.
During 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 renouncing his rights activities in scenes that were obviously stage-managed. His family heard nothing further from him. On December 16, 2011, just six days before the expiration of Gao’s five-year sentence suspension, Chinese authorities revoked the suspension and sent him to a prison in Xinjiang.
The following is additional information provided by Geng He on the attempts made by Gao’s family to visit him in prison.
January 10, 2012: Gao’s older brother and father-in-law went to Shaya Prison to visit him, but were turned away by prison authorities who claimed that Gao “did not want to see his family” and that he was in “a three month study period.”
February 24, 2012: Gao’s older brother went to Beijing to inquire with various authorities about Gao’s imprisonment. He was confined in a hotel room as a result of these inquiries and subsequently returned to his hometown.
March 24, 2012: Gao’s brother and father-in-law were allowed to meet with Gao at Shaya Prison, accompanied by police officers from Gao’s family’s hometown in Shaanxi Province. Their visit was restricted to half an hour, and only permitted under the condition that they provide no information to the media and discuss only family issues. Both Gao’s brother and father-in-law were subjected to a full body search prior to seeing him. A document requiring Gao’s signature, which would have granted power of attorney to a lawyer willing to petition Gao’s case, was taken from his brother during the search and never returned. Gao’s family reported that he looked pale during their meeting, but appeared physically well. All subsequent requests to visit Gao have been denied.
August 27, 2012: At the request of Gao’s brother, Beijing rights defense lawyers Li Xiongbin (黎雄兵) and Li Subin (李苏滨) travelled thousands of miles to Shaya Prison to assist Gao. After several attempts to negotiate with different officers, the two lawyers were turned away for the following reasons:
August 28, 2012: The two lawyers went to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Prison Administration Bureau to file a complaint regarding the Shaya Prison’s violations, which the Bureau refused to accept.
October 2012: Shortly before the 18th Party Congress, Gao Zhisheng’s older brother received a letter with Gao’s fingerprint requesting that the family not come visit.
For more information on Gao Zhisheng and Geng He, see:
Gao Zhisheng’s account of his September 2007 kidnapping and torture: