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Wall Street Journal: Gao Zhisheng Fights On

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Wall Street Journal
Updated June 15, 2016 1:15 p.m. ET

A Chinese dissident exposes how Beijing tried to silence him.

A decade of imprisonment, torture and now house arrest haven’t stopped Gao Zhisheng from speaking out against China’s human-rights abuses. The brave lawyer’s latest statement is a memoir written in secret, smuggled out of China and published this week in Taiwan.

“The book is my way of posing resistance,” Mr. Gao told the Associated Press by text message Monday from rural Shaanxi province, where he is confined to his brother’s home under constant surveillance. Titled “The Year 2017, Stand Up China,” it details his most recent spells in prison, from 2009 to 2014, during which he endured years of solitary confinement, torture by electric shock and daily rations of a single piece of cabbage and slice of bread.

“You cannot imagine the mental harassment they inflicted upon me,” he said last year in his first interview since 2010. Prison guards refused to speak to him and forced him to stay silent. At one point they blared Communist Party propaganda from a loudspeaker in his cell for 68 weeks straight.

Gao Zhisheng in northwestern China's Shaanxi province in
April. Photo: Associated Press
By the time of his release two years ago he had dropped 50 pounds, could barely speak and had lost teeth to malnutrition. Today he still can’t eat solid food because under house arrest he has been denied access to dentists and doctors. Such medical neglect led to the death of political prisoner Cao Shunli in 2014 and has threatened the lives of other dissidents such as journalist Gao Yu and poet Zhu Yufu.

Mr. Gao hasn’t seen his wife, daughter and son since 2009, when they fled China after years of abuse by state agents who occupied the family’s Beijing apartment and harassed the children in school. Though his family now lives in California, Mr. Gao says he feels obligated not to join them even if he could. “I thought about giving up and giving my time to my family,” he said last year, but staying in China “is the mission God has given me.”

The causes that motivate him are a cross-section of repression in contemporary China, from dispossessed land owners to aggrieved miners and religious minorities such as Falun Gong practitioners and Christians like himself. Advocating for these groups has become even more difficult under Xi Jinping, who rounded up more than 300 lawyers and legal activists last July. More than 20 remain in custody and some are charged with “subversion of state power,” as Mr. Gao was in 2006, which could yield a jail term of 10 years or more.

In a further sign of China’s deepening chill, Mr. Gao’s memoir launched Tuesday in Hong Kong, yet no distributor in the city has agreed to touch it, presumably fearing the fate of the five local booksellers who disappeared into mainland police custody last year. The Chinese lawlessness that Mr. Gao opposes is increasingly spreading beyond China’s borders. Securing “a China more just”—as Mr. Gao titled his first memoir, in 2007—becomes more urgent every day.

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"Bob Fu has dedicated his life to bringing freedom of religion to the Chinese people. His story is a testimony to the power of faith and an inspiration to people struggling to break free from oppression."
—Mrs. Laura Bush

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