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January 25, 2013

Chinese government allows rare prison visit

By Alison Searle
Human Rights Defenders

Gao Zhisheng, a Christian human rights attorney, was granted a rare prison visit this week—confirmation that he is alive after nearly a year of strict isolation.  The New York-based NGO Human Rights in China reported that Gao’s younger brother and father-in-law visited him in the remote Shaya County Prison in Xinjian, where he has been imprisoned for the last 10 months.

Gao, an advocate for constitutional reform and religious rights, has been in and out of prison since 2006.  He was initially convicted and jailed for “inciting subversion of state power,” but was released on probation.  He continued his work and was repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, and tortured by Chinese authorities from 2008-2011.  In December 2011, after being disappeared for an extended period, the Chinese government announced that Gao violated probationary measures and sentenced him again.  They declined to release the record.

This week’s visit is only the second Gao’s family has been allowed since his 2011 sentence. While this is a positive gesture, U.S. policymakers have been formally advocating for Gao’s release, and for the release of all people in China who have been arbitrarily detained.  The Chinese government has not formally responded to this request.

The Chinese government should also allow Chen Kegui’s family to visit him in prison as soon as possible.  Kegui is the nephew of human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who provoked a media firestorm last year after his daring escape from house arrest.  Following the escape, Kegui wassentenced to 39 months in prison after injuring a government official who stormed his house in search of Guangcheng.

Kegui’s trial failed to meet minimum international trial standards and his family was notified of the trial only 15 minutes beforehand.  He was not able to use his own lawyers, but was appointed a representative designated by the court who has only been identified as “Li.”  Aside from a brief phone conversation with his father when he was first arrested, Kegui has not had any contact with his family.

There are countless human rights defenders unable to speak and act freely in China. Human Rights First will continue to monitor the cases of several men and women who fight for human rights in China, including:

Wang Yonghang (Detained) Wang is a human rights attorney serving a 7-year sentence for publishing letters online advocating religious freedom and for representing Falun Gong members. He was sentenced in February 2010 after being forcibly removed from his home and beaten by Chinese authorities. In May 2012, sources said he had been subjected to long-term persecution and torture in detention. In the last six months his health has deteriorated significantly and he suffers from tuberculosis, pleural and peritoneal effusions, and shows signs of partial paralysis. Chinese authorities refuse to admit to his poor health or provide additional medical treatment.

Ni Yulan (Detained) A former lawyer and housing rights activist, Ni was sentenced to two years in prison for obstructing justice in 2008. She was detained for filming the forced demolition of a Beijing home and resisting the forced demolition of her own home. Ni became disabled after being repeatedly beaten by police while in government custody. In April 2011 she and her husband were detained for “creating a disturbance,” though the case did not appear before the court until December 2011. On April 10, 2012, in a hearing that only lasted ten minutes, Ni was sentenced to two years and eight months and her husband, Dong, to two years. They remain detained.

Chen Guangcheng (in the United States) Chen is a blind human rights lawyer who had been detained since the rejection of his final appeal in 2007. He was released from prison in September 2010, but continued to be detained under house arrest. In April 2012, Chen made a daring escape from house arrest, seeking refuge in the U.S. Embassy. He was then transferred by a U.S. diplomatic escort to a Chinese hospital where he received treatment for injuries incurred during the escape. After weeks of uncertainty about his visa status and future in China, he and his family were granted passports and they arrived on May 19 in New York City, where Chen is studying law. There is continued concern for his family members still in China, particularly his nephew, Chen Kegui, who is being detained on charges of attempted murder.

Liu Wei (Law License Revoked) A human rights lawyer from Beijing’s Shunhe Law Firm, Liu has not had her license to practice law renewed by the judicial authorities after an annual review of her performance on May 31, 2009. Liu is part of a group of about twenty lawyers whose licenses were stripped for taking “sensitive” human rights cases. Most of the others have succeeded in having their licenses returned after negotiations with the authorities. Ms. Liu has defended Falun Gong practitioners, human rights activists and HIV/AIDS carriers who faced discrimination. She continues to fight for human rights today, despite having been disbarred.