Radio Free Asia Exclusive: Gao Zhisheng’s family visit him in Shaya Prison on March 24

Thursday, March 29, 2012

(By Zhang Min, Radio Free Asia reporter, March 27, 2012)

The older brother and father-in-law of rights defense lawyer Gao Zhisheng visited him on March 24 visited him, separated by a glass partition, in Xinjiang’s Shaya Jail after nearly two year during which his family lost all contact with him.

On the night of March 27, east coast time in the United States, I called Gao Zhisheng’s brother, Gao Zhiyi, who just returned to his home in northern Shanxi Province. 

Gao Zhiyi: I’ll talk to you in a few days. It’s not convenient now.

Journalist:  So you saw him with your own eyes, right?

Gao Zhiyi: Yes, yes.
On Jan. 1, 2012, Gao Zhiyi, brother of lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had been disappeared for 21 months, received a Notice of Prisoner Arrival from the Criminal Administration Section of Shaya Jail, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. A week later, Gao Zhiyi left his hometown in northern Shanxi and headed for Xinjiang, where he met up with three of Gao Zhisheng’s in-laws who live in Urumqi [capital of Xinjiang] to travel together to Shaya Prison. They arrived on Jan. 10 and requested a meeting with Gao Zhisheng. Prison authorities told them that Gao was under a three-month observation period. If he was deemed to have been cooperative during that period, he would be allowed visitors.  The next day, Gao’s relatives made a second attempt to visit him at the prison but were stopped at a checkpoint more than 10 kilometers (six miles) from the jail.

Gao Zhisheng’s wife Geng He learned on March 25 that their relatives had visited Gao Zhisheng in Shaya Prison on March 24.

Geng He was interviewed twice Radio Free Asia on March 26 and 27, and shared the news she had learned.

Interview with Geng He on March 26: 

Journalist: Recently I haven’t been able to reach Gao Zhiyi. His phone is always been busy. Have you heard anything from him?

Geng He: I wasn’t able to reach him either till last night. He said he went (to Shaya Prison) and saw him (Gao Zhisheng). He looked fine. But he (Gao Zhiyi) said he was not allowed to talk about it to anyone on the outside. If he did, they would not let him visit again. 

Journalist: Did he talk with him?

Geng He: I didn’t get to ask for details.  That’s because I sensed that the local police were following him (Gao Zhiyi) and were not letting him answer the phone. Not just him, but the whole family were not allowed to answer their phones. To get permission for this visit, this was the precondition. Yesterday, he was allowed to answer my phone call because the visit was over. But when I asked for details, he said, “I have to go now. I’ll talk to you when I get home.”  I guess he was on the road, headed for home. 

Journalist: Did your side of the family visit him?

Geng He: My brother (Gao Zhiyi) told me that my dad also went. 

Journalist: Were
you able to get through to your father’s phone?

Geng He: I couldn’t get through. My father just has a Xiaolingtong [a rudimentary cellphone]. When he leaves Urumqi (where he lives), it doesn’t work. I think I’ll be able to reach him when he gets home, maybe tomorrow.

Journalist: What was the exact time of the visit?

Geng He:  Noon on Saturday (March 24). I asked our brother, “Was there paperwork related to the visit?” He said, “None. We were not allowed to say anything, do anything or bring anything with us. This time, I just wanted to see if he was dead or alive.”

Journalist: They have seen him, but are not allowed to tell about it. Do you think this is normal? If he’s alive and well, why the secrecy?

Geng He: The local police won’t let them talk! The family kept it under wraps for a long time beforehand, they weren’t allowed to tell. They were told the visit would be cancelled if they said anything. So they kept silent until yesterday when the visit was over. Unbelievable! 

Anchor: Why the need for the secrecy?

Geng He: Who knows! They just don’t want the outside world to know about it, which is why the local police from Jiaxian and Yulin went along with them for the visit. I asked, “Did they say when we could visit again?” My brother said, “I can’t say anything right now. This visit we just wanted to find out if he was dead or alive.  Wait until I get home and we’ll talk.”

From December 2004 to December 2005, Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer who had served as a defense counsel in cases including those involving Falun Gong practitioners and [local people trying to protect their interest in] oil fields in northern Shaanxi province, wrote three open letters to the China’s top leaders demanding that they stop persecuting Falun Gong adherents. In November 2005, the Shengzhi Law Firm of Beijing, of which he was the director, was shut down by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice. 

On Aug. 15, 2006, he was kidnapped by the police. On Dec. 22, 2006, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to three years in prison with five years probation, and deprived of political rights for one year.  He was sent back home.  In September 2007, Gao Zhisheng was once again taken into custody.  After his release, his article “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia” was disseminated.  In it, he describes the tortures he was subjected to during his detention, including the insertion of toothpicks into his genitals.

Gao Zhisheng won the American Board of Trial Advocates’ Courageous Advocacy Award as well as other human rights awards.

Before dawn on Feb. 4, 2009, in his hometown in northern Shaanxi province, Gao was kidnapped by the police right in front of his relatives.

In early 2009, Gao’s wife and children fled China. They were later granted political refugee status and settled in the United Sates.

After Gao Zhisheng was kidnapped by police from his hometown, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson, the police and other sources gave many conflicting reports regarding his whereabouts.  No one could get any accurate information about him until March 28, 2010, when his phone number suddenly showed up on the Internet and people in the outside world could call lawyer Gao Zhisheng.  Ten days later, when people called the number again, it was disconnected. On April 20, Gao was once again disappeared.

On Dec 16, 2011, just as Gao’s five-year probation period was about to end, the Xinhua News Agency released a brief English report saying Gao would be sent back to jail to serve his three-year prison term because he had violated the terms of his probation. However, in the two weeks that followed, there was no further information about which prison Gao would be sent to, and his family received no documentation about the ruling nor notification of when they would be able to have a prison visit. The report made no mention of which terms of his probation Gao had violated, and also made no mention of Gao’s disappearance in the previous 20 months. It was not until Jan. 1, 2012, when Gao Zhiyi, brother of Gao Zhisheng, received a “Notice of Prisoner Arrival” from Shaya Prison.

Interview with Geng He on March 27 : 

Geng He said she was able to get through to her sister by phone and from her she got a description of what the visit was like from her father’s perspective.

Geng He: I was told they had a half-hour visit with him, separated by a glass partition and speaking by phone. My sister said he looked a little pale, probably from lack of exposure to the sun, and his weight seemed okay. Nothing really stood out from his appearance. It was hard to tell if he was doing well or poorly. He seemed to be ok in general.

My father talked with him for about 10 minutes and he asked how everyone was doing, my father, my older sister, my younger sister, etc., and told us to take care of my mother. When he finished asking about everyone, the ten minutes were up. He then asked about my father’s health condition. He burst into tears when my father answered, “Now that I’ve seen you, my health is good.”

(My sister told me that) my father said he couldn’t follow the entire conversation between Gao Zhisheng and his brother (because of their accent). Seemed like they talked about how each family member was doing. Then Gao Zhengsheng’s brother broke down in tears and … my father was kept busy getting tissue to wipe away the tears. 

The police were there throughout their conversation. I asked, How many police? My sister said my father did not tell her.

Not sure if it was my father or his brother who asked, “Do you need money”, and Gao Zhisheng said, “Yes.” They wanted to leave him a good amount of money, but Gao Zhisheng said, “I am allowed to receive just 600 yuan a month. Only 600 yuan per visit.” So my father left 600 yuan with him. 

Anchor:  Was he seated or standing?

Geng He: He was seated and under surveillance. 

Anchor: Do you feel the description is believable? 

Geng He: I think it’s a very truthful description. 

Anchor:  Do you think it was out of his own fear or because he’d been threatened that your brother refused to speak to you about the visit?

Geng He: I think he was threatened because when he left home, he did not call my family. My family was very anxious and kept calling him on his phone, but his phone was always off. When my father met him and complained about not being able to reach him, he bowed his head and said in a low voice, “My phone was turne off.” When asked why, he just wouldn’t explain. My father said he must have been in a real bind and couldn’t say anything. 

Anchor: Could it be that he turned off his phone because the out-of-network service charge is expensive?

Geng He: No. The police were with him. When he visited Shanya Prison the first time, he stayed with my family (in Urumqi). The second time, my father invited him to stay with my family, but he said, “There is another person (police). I need to stay with him.” So he did not stay with my family. But I don’t know if there were one or two policemen that accompanied him. I heard from my family that there were two policemen, one from Jiaxian, the other from the Yulin area in northern Shanxi Province. 

Anchor: What do you think of what happened? How do you feel now?

Geng He: My heart is very heavy. Though my family has seen him, I am not relaxed. I still have lots of questions. Why is he being imprisoned there? What did he do? When will this come to an end?

My family said they were caught off guard by the decision to allow a visit. As soon as they entered into the room, the police started announcing rules, saying they couldn’t talk about this and couldn’t talk about that. 

I don’t know how serious the threats were (from the police). I don’t know if they made arrangements for next visit. 

I don’t feel relieved now. I keep thinking: What is all this about? What has gone wrong? I have never felt relieved, not for a moment. Gao Zhisheng is innocent. He should be released as soon as possible. He should be set free immediately.

This report is by Radio Free Asia reporter Zhang Min. 

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