Chinese Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng describes horrific torture, re-education

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
Geng He, the wife of Gao Zhisheng, political prisoner and China's leading human rights lawyer, speaks as U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) holds up a portrait of Gao during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 18, 2011. Gao was released in August 2014 but remains under surveillance. | REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

BEIJING, China (Christian Examiner) – After three years in prison, Gao Zhisheng is still not safe—he remains under house arrest and predicts that the government will kidnap and torture him again soon.

The Chinese Christian human rights lawyer who was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his defense of Christians and other religious minorities, has been brutally persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party for the last 10 years.

This week, he revealed in an interview with Associated Press the horrific details of his most recent torture at the hands of government agents while imprisoned for speaking out against injustice.

The lawyer has pledged to remain in China rather than rejoin his family in exile in the United States. "I thought about giving up and giving my time to my family, but it's the mission God has given me," Gao said, of staying in China.

He currently remains under house arrest and believes it is likely that he will be taken back to prison. He disappeared for a day on September 24 but was returned on September 25.


Under government law, prisoners are not supposed to be in confinement for more than 15 days, but Gao was held in confinement for three years.

After being secretly tried in 2011, although he had been in police custody on and off since 2007—subjected to torture with electric batons, beating, starvation, and mental and emotional abuse—Gao was imprisoned in Xinjiang province in an eight-square-meter room without windows for three years.

At one point, his captors installed a loudspeaker in his cell that blared socialist propaganda at him for 68 weeks without stopping.

"You cannot imagine the mental harassment they inflicted upon me," Gao said. Upon his release, he was unable to cope with wide open spaces or overstimulation because of the barbaric treatment he suffered for so long.

Gao's wife, Geng He, has lobbied for his release through political channels. "I don't understand why the government has to imprison him," she said in an interview in California. "He is just a lawyer. ... He is standing up for greater freedom in China."

When Gao was released in August 2014, the lawyer could barely walk or speak. His friends and family feared that he had finally been broken by the years of deprivation and fear.

But he has been working on two manuscripts detailing his experience because he needs to speak out about his treatment and abuse.

"Every time we emerge from the prison alive, it is a defeat for our opponents," Gao said.


Gao gave the face-to-face interview not long after his release but asked for it to be held while he worked on his manuscript so that he would have more time before government retaliation after its broadcast.

He showed the cameraman his missing teeth and said the two things he really wanted were a visit to a dentist and the ability to take a shower. Under constant supervision, he was allowed to go to a nearby village but not to stay there long.

"Those who persecuted me have used every means possible over the past nine years to break my spirit," he said.

Gao seemed amazingly calm when he recounted details of his third session of torture, which was performed by the same people who tortured him first in 2007. He said he was able to dissociate himself from the pain, enabling him to fall asleep within a minute when his torturers had to rest after four or five hours.

One kicked him in the head and called him a dog for being able to sleep under the circumstances. They said they couldn't sleep for days after torturing him.

"Life in prison was absolutely terrible on a physical level," he said, serene but serious. "When I was tortured for the first time I was afraid, really afraid. But the second time I was not, because it's a matter of perception. Why was I not afraid? Because I knew that fear would not help, but cause more oppression and cruelty."

Gao smiled as he recounted the things he told his prison guards while in confinement. Their space was limited but his was unlimited. They saw darkness but he saw light.

Gao's first denunciation of his torturers in 2007 can be read on China Aid here. His video interview with AP can be viewed here at the bottom of the page.