Letter to Prime Minister Harper about Gao Zhisheng

March 02, 2009

Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minster Harper,

We are writing to appeal to you and your government to intervene on our behalf for the immediate release of the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated lawyer Gao Zhisheng by the Chinese government. We are also appealing for your continuous support for the courageous struggle for human rights for all by the Chinese people in general and Mr. Gao in particular.

In 2001, Gao was named one of China's top ten lawyers. At the time, he donated a third of his time to victims of human rights violations, representing miners, evicted tenants and others. However, the party-state unleashed its full wrath after he wrote to officials at a high level in the Chinese regime, calling for an end to government persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, though he is not a Falun Gong practitioner himself.

The regimes' persecution of Gao started with removing his permit to practise law, an attempt on his life, having police attack his wife and 14-year-old daughter and four-year-old son and denying the family any income. It intensified when Gao responded in the nonviolent tradition of Gandhi by launching nationwide hunger strikes calling for justice and human rights in China.

In 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power", although international pressure appears to have caused a suspension of the sentence for five years.

On June 24, 2007, Gao was kidnapped by the Chinese government in order to prevent him from attending an award ceremony in the United States. The American Board of Trial Advocates selected Gao to receive the prestigious Courageous Advocacy Award; they had wished to present the award to Gao personally in California on June 30, 2007.

In September 2007, Gao was abducted after writing an open letter to the U.S. Congress to explain the human rights situation preceding the 2008 Olympics.

Predictably, Gao did speak out again when he was released. In his most recent article a few weeks ago, he wrote about over 50 days of excruciating torture. His letter included this:

“Then, the electric shock batons were put all over me. And my full body, my heart, lungs, and muscles began jumping under my skin uncontrollably. I was writhing on the ground in pain, trying to crawl away. Wang [one of the lead torturers] then shocked me in my genitals.”

Gao wrote further describing his ordeal in a separate incident: “Then two people stretched out my arms and pinned them to the ground. They used toothpicks to pierce my genitals. I can't use any language to describe the helplessness, pain, and despair that I felt then. At a point like that, language and emotion do not have the power to explain.”

In his account, Gao said that the torturers mentioned they were using the same torture methods that they had earlier refined on Falun Gong practitioners. He admitted that he had tried to kill himself to stop the suffering, and that he believed God helped him to come back from the brink of death.

Since his recent letter, Mr. Gao has disappeared again, presumably re-arrested, to the great concern of many in China and elsewhere. For his full account, please access "Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia" at www.david-kilgour.com in the Human Rights section.

Human rights organizations have long documented continued persecution by the Chinese government of its own citizens in violation of basic human dignity. In response, the party-state in Beijing has continuously ignored worldwide criticism of its appalling human rights record. Most recently, during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights, the Chinese authorities rejected almost all the recommendations aimed at promoting democracy and human rights made by all the EU member states and by Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland as well as Canada.

Gao’s memoir A China More Just, published the Fall of 2007, in English in the United States, captures such a record in compelling words:

"For we will experience and witness how the greatest people on earth banished this suffering once and for all! I am moved by an ardent hope that by articulating it, I may in some way help to relieve China of the crushing burden on her back. ...... Whatever the case, these are words that tell a tale both of the people’s violent, sanguinary, bitter pain, as well as of the noble character, dignity, and resoluteness of the freedom fighters who are counted among them. Yet no words, however strong, can possibly describe the darkness and terrible barbarity of today’s dictators in China, nor the tragic annihilation of Chinese culture that they have perpetrated."

Well-wishers of China had long hoped that the country’s economic growth would be accompanied by increased respect for human rights and the rule of law. The reality has been quite the contrary; instead of honouring the obligations prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which China is a signatory, blatant human rights violations persist.

The excuse used by the Chinese party-state for persecuting Gao Zhisheng is that Falun Gong must be eradicated. Falun Gong is an exercise and spiritual community, which promotes "truth, compassion and forbearance." Falun Gong is only one of the faith groups and voices of dissent being persecuted in China. There are other courageous heroes like Gao in China, virtually unknown and unsung outside their own land, who face impossible odds and stand as witnesses of the truth as corruption, bribery, extortion, brutality, threats, and outright murder take place on a daily basis.

Having courageously sought justice for vulnerable groups such as the poor, the disabled, and the persecuted, Gao's story is a light shining in the darkness, and a reminder that all of us must stand up for what we believe and affirm.

The Chinese government has wrongly accused Mr. Gao and other critics of China's human rights records of interfering with Chinese affairs when in fact Mr. Gao is by far one of the country's truest patriots. He follows the footsteps of Lu Xun, one of China's most outstanding modern authors, who argued against a cultural environment obsessed with saving face and repeatedly called for social change, democratic development and respect for human dignity.

By failing to stop gross and systematic human rights violations, or acting so often as the perpetrator of cruel abuses of their people, the regime in Beijing is acting like the lord of Cai in the legend of Bian Que whose warnings about disaster was ignored by the ruthless and conceited ruler. By allowing injustices of many kinds to spread, the party-state is working to the serious detriment of a country, which has made many great contributions to world civilization in its history.

This month, the Chinese Parliament, National Congress of People’s Representatives, will meet in Beijing to discuss the country’s plans for what the Chinese President Hu Jintao calls a “harmonious society.”

Chinese leaders should realize the profound irony of its pursuit of “harmony” in face of its own violent offense against its own very narrow interpretation of human rights. They must be made to understand that social cohesion cannot be achieved until the party-state stops its violent repression of the Chinese people.

As an emerging economic power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the government of China must stop the persecution and other abuses of its own people. Beijing should not be allowed to take its increased role in dealing with the current worldwide financial challenges as a free license to continued aggression on the Chinese people.

The Canadian government, particularly under your leadership, has been a strong supporter of human rights and rule of law in China. We urge you to continue to hold the Beijing regime to account for its continued violation of human rights and blatant disrespect for the rule of law. We call on your government to demand that Bejing release Gao Zhisheng immediately and provide proper medical treatment and other protection to him immediately.


Canadian Friends of Gao Zhisheng