[Photo caption: Gao Zhisheng gives an interview at his office in Beijing, 02 November 2005. The prominent Chinese human-rights lawyer has been released from prison after five and a half years. (Verna Yu/AFP/Getty Images)]
Top Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng remains effectively under house arrest, five months after his release from prison on subversion charges, his family said on Thursday.
Gao, 52, is currently under 24-hour surveillance by state security police at the home of his wife’s parents in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where he was released from a three-year jail term for “incitement to subvert state power” in August.
While he is allowed to maintain phone contact with his family, Gao remains in Xinjiang, his brother Gao Zhiyu told RFA on Thursday.
“We speak every few days, sometimes every eight or 10 days,” Gao Zhiyu said, adding that his brother’s mental health “seems OK now.”
Asked if he had plans to visit his brother, he said: “We’ll have to see when the time comes.”
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said Gao had barely been able to speak an entire sentence when he was first released from Xinjiang’s Shaya Prison, where he had been held for lengthy periods in solitary confinement and tortured.
But despite regular phone calls to relatives, all the family’s movements and calls are still being monitored, Hu said.
“Either they cut Gao off from all contact with the outside world, or they allow him to have brief, stilted conversations which can never touch on any deeper topics,” Hu said.
“Gao’s family is under the same huge political pressure that he himself is under,” he said.
“Such is the paradigm for the repression of prisoners of conscience under China’s one-party dictatorship,” Hu added.
Defending the vulnerable
Gao’s wife Geng He fled China with the couple’s two children after her husband “disappeared” for more than a year, arriving in the United States with the couple’s two children in 2009.
Once a prominent lawyer lauded by the Communist Party, Gao fell afoul of the government after he defended some of China’s most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
In 2006, Beijing authorities arrested Gao and handed him a three-year jail term for “inciting subversion” that was later suspended for five years. But during the following five years, Gao had repeatedly suffered forced disappearances and torture.
In December 2011, China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a terse announcement that Gao had been imprisoned for three years for repeatedly violating his probation terms.
The announcement drew strong criticism from the United Nations, United States and the European Union, all of which have repeatedly called for Gao’s release, and by overseas rights groups, including Amnesty International.
Geng He and fellow activists say they fear the authorities may decide to whisk Gao off into secret detention, given the sensitive nature of the cases he has defended.
Since Geng’s account of her husband’s torture, overseas rights groups have highlighted the cases of four more Chinese activists subjected to cruel or degrading treatment while in detention.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, which translates and collates reports from rights groups inside China, called on the authorities to investigate complaints made by the victims’ lawyers.
It cited the case of Beijing artist and poet Wang Zang, 29, detained on Oct. 1 for posting a photo in support of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
Wang’s lawyer Sui Muqing was allowed to visit him for the first time on Dec. 25. Wang was formally arrested for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” on Nov. 6.
He was kept at a location outside a regular detention center, held in a padded room and interrogated without sleep for four nights and five days, his lawyer Sui Muqing told CHRD.
It also cited the abuse and mistreatment of Guangzhou-based political activist Li Biyun, who was rushed to the emergency room after being released on Dec. 17.
Li had previously sustained fractured vertebrae during a police beating, CHRD said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday. She was also shackled to a bed for 10 days and denied medical treatment while being held at the Guangdong Armed Police Corps Hospital until May 21, 2014.
It said Guangzhou-based activist Sun Desheng has been subjected to beatings, long periods standing and cold conditions while inside the Tianhe District Detention Center, citing his lawyer Chen Jinxue, who visited Sun on Jan. 5.
Chen has vowed to file a lawsuit against the detention center, after police refused to investigate, it said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.