Human rights in China

Wife of freed Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng fears husband tortured

Spouse of dissident advocate Gao Zhisheng confirms her husband is out of prison but struggling to eat and may be in poor health

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 10:47am

Mainland human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was released from prison yesterday, his wife said, but she believed he had been tortured in jail and voiced fears for his safety.

Gao's wife, Geng He, who fled to the United States with their two children in 2009, said she managed to speak briefly to her husband on the phone last night when he was with a relative, but was unable to finish the conversation because they appeared to be under police surveillance.

Geng said the only thing her husband told her was that "his teeth were in a bad way".

Then the relative, who seemed to be nervous, took over the phone and said several of Gao's front upper and lower teeth were so loose that he had to tear a bread bun into pieces before eating it.

"From the state of his teeth, I think we can believe he has been tortured," Geng said in a quivering voice, weeping over the phone.

"If his teeth were like this, can the rest of his body be any good?

"How could he have been treated like this when there is so much attention on his case?"

She said Gao, 50, who is known for his spirited and charismatic personality, sounded "not quite the same" on the phone.

"His voice used to be bright and sonorous, but now it sounded very flat," she said.

Geng said she hoped Gao could go to the United States for medical treatment and be reunited with her and their two children, aged 21 and 11.

"He is such a talented individual … Yet torture and imprisonment have ruined his life," she said. Gao's older brother, Gao Zhiyi, also confirmed his brother had been released but declined to elaborate.

He had travelled thousands of miles from his hometown in Shaanxi to the far western Xinjiang region this week to meet his brother.

Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, also said she feared that Gao, like other high-profile activists released from prison, would not regain genuine freedom but would be put under house arrest for years to come.

Phone calls to Shaya County Prison went unanswered yesterday.

Gao's lawyer's licence was revoked by the authorities in 2005 after he accused the government of persecuting members of the banned Falun Gong sect and underground Christians.

He was given a suspended three-year sentence with five years' probation in December 2006 for "inciting subversion of state power". His family were also harassed frequently.

Gao, who said he had been detained and tortured by police many times, was taken away by security agents in February 2009, a month after his wife and children fled to the US. He re-emerged for a few weeks in the spring of 2010, but disappeared again.

In December 2011, state media reported that Gao was sent back to prison for three years for "seriously violating probation rules". He was allowed only two visits by his relatives over the past three years.