When Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Washington in January, feted by President Obama with all the formal trappings of a coveted state visit, I was standing across the street from the White House pleading for the release of my husband Gao Zhisheng, once hailed by the Chinese government as one of the nation’s top 10 lawyers but now considered an enemy of the country he once served.
Vice President Joseph Biden is now in Beijing to further U.S.-China relations. But should the United States, which has always stood for freedom and justice, be pursuing relations with China when Gao Zhisheng, a peaceful fighter for the vulnerable and champion of the rule of law, is tortured and disappeared in the netherworld of China’s police apparatus? It is impossible to imagine. It is my fervent hope that Vice President Biden can bring my husband back to us.
The Vice President’s China visit coincides with the fifth anniversary of my husband’s disappearance. He was first taken by police on August 15, 2006. His “crime”was providing pro bono legal defense to persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, house church Christians, helpless government petitioners, peasants whose land was sold out from under them by local officials to real estate developers, and other victims of abuse of power by Chinese officials.
Over the past five years he has disappeared into police detention no less than six times, and each time he was tortured. Each time that he has been kidnapped by the police, they have held him for a longer period. And each time, the torture has been worse. The first time, they inserted toothpicks inserted into his genitals. More recently, he nearly died when his bare body was pistol-whipped for two days and two nights. But there have been even worse tortures that he refuses to talk about.
We now know that when another activist – artist Ai Weiwei – was also illegally detained by police and tortured, he was shown video of my husband being tortured and told the same thing would be done to him. The torture was so horrific that Ai confessed.
The irony of it is, for most of these five years of repeated disappearances, my husband should have been behind bars. That’s because in 2006, he was convicted of inciting subversion and sentenced to three years in prison and five years probation. If my husband had been allowed to serve his three-year sentence “safe and sound” in prison, we would at least have known where he was, and we should have been allowed regular visits and mail and phone communication.
When U.S. government representatives raised my husband’s case during bilateral talks in April and May on human rights, the economy and strategy, the Chinese side assured them that Gao was fine and had been in contact with his family members. This is a flat out lie.
It has been 16 months since anyone has heard from him. We have implored everyone we can think of – from President Obama to the Beijing police official in charge of Gao’s case – for information on his whereabouts and condition. We don’t even know if he is alive.
The Vice President of the United States should make it his top priority to get the truth about my husband from the Chinese government, and the United States should demand that the Chinese authorities follow their own law and regulations. No government that shows such flagrant disregard for its own code of law and that would so brutally torture its foremost champions of justice should be considered an equal partner of the United States.
He Geng has been tirelessly campaigning for her husband’s freedom since coming to the United States in early 2009. She wrote an appeal that was published in the Washington Post on February 4, 2010 ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/03/AR2010020302916.html ) and has spoken at congressional press conferences to draw attention to China’s human rights record.
Bob Xiqiu Fu is founder and president of China Aid Association, which monitors and reports on religious freedom violations in China. Fu has testified before many government and international organizations, including various U.S. congressional committees, the European Parliament and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and has been interviewed by media all over the world, including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the BBC, the Associated Press and Reuters.