The Committee acted on reports that Mr. Gao, who in 2001 was recognized by the Ministry of Justice as one of the country’s ten best lawyers, was reportedly taken from his home on February 4, 2009, by a group of ten people including uniformed police. Mr. Gao has not been heard from since then and the Chinese government has not responded to repeated calls to confirm his safety.
Mr. Gao is one of China’s most well-known lawyers. He began to take on pro bono work to defend the rights of the poor in the late 1990s, and between 2004 and 2006 also took on cases of Falun Gong practitioners, so-called “house” Christians (Chinese Christians unaffiliated with registered churches in China), and democracy activists. He defended them against persecution and sentencing without trial to labor camps, where they were physically and sexually abused. He also wrote an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, calling for the end of persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
In 2006 he was detained and received a suspended 3-year prison sentence for inciting subversion. Additionally, his law firm was shut down and his license to practice law was revoked.
In an account of a two-month detention in 2007 that was released this year, Mr. Gao details the torture he was subjected to, including beatings with electrified batons, burning his eyes with cigarettes, and other abuses amounting to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. He also states that he was threatened with punishment of death if he released the details of his mistreatment.
Prior to reports of his disappearance this year, Mr. Gao and his family lived under constant police surveillance. Mr. Gaos family was forced to leave China in January due to the surveillance and repeated harassment by police.
The Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers emphasized in their letter to the Ministry of Justice that the detention and harassment of Mr. Gao as a consequence of his professional decision to take on clients in politically sensitive cases undermines the development of a professional and independent bar and the rule of law in China.
The Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers is housed at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. It is a group of independent lawyers from outside China whose goal is to support lawyers in China in their quest to strengthen the rule of law there.
For information about the Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, see: http://www.csclawyers.org