American Board of Trial Advocates Responds to Courageous Advocacy Award Recipient Being Held by China's Government

Dec 18, 2007, 00:00 ET from American Board of Trial Advocates

    DALLAS, Dec. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Gao Zhisheng, the recipient
 of the American Board of Trial Advocates' Courageous Advocacy Award, was
 reportedly taken into custody from his home in Beijing by state security
 officers on Sept. 22. The Chinese authorities have not officially
 acknowledged his detention, and his family has not been informed of his
 location. Gao Zhisheng's arrest follows the Sept. 12 publication of an open
 letter to the U.S. Congress in which he criticized China's human rights
 record and its hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
     In response to this news, ABOTA National President Lewis R. Sifford
 wrote a letter to President Bush expressing ABOTA's concern and requesting
 that appropriate diplomatic action be considered. Excerpts of the letter
 are included below.
     Excerpts of the letter that Mr. Sifford sent to President Bush
 (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Joseph R. Biden and Rep. Tom
 Lantos were copied on the letter.):
     Dear Mr. President:
     A Courageous Advocacy Award has been given by our organization in honor
 of judges or advocates anywhere in the world who have demonstrated courage
 in the performance of their professional duties and who have displayed a
 strict adherence to the rule of law even at great risk to their personal
 freedom and safety. The Courageous Advocacy Award has been presented by
 ABOTA on only three occasions. In 1999 at the ABOTA International Meeting
 in Florence, Italy, a collective award was given to 24 murdered lawyers,
 judges and their families for exposing corruption and terrorism that had
 insidiously undermined the legal system of Italian society. In 2003 at the
 ABOTA International Meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a collective
 award was given in memory of 13 judges, barristers and solicitors who were
 maimed or murdered while showing extraordinary courage and unwavering
 commitment to the rule of law following the 1968 political and social
 unrest in that country.
     The third recipient of the Courageous Advocacy Award and the only
 individual to receive this honor was Chinese attorney Gao Zhisheng. Gao
 Zhisheng is a man of great courage. He has been referred to by the
 Washington Post as one of "...the most daring of a generation of
 self-trained lawyers who have been pushing the Chinese government to obey
 its own laws." The New York Times referred to him as " of the most
 well-known dissidents in China. An outspoken government critic...he has
 taken on cases that many Chinese lawyers would not dare touch."
     The award was to be presented to him personally at a National Board of
 Directors meeting on June 30, 2007. Even though his appearance was
 specifically requested and an offer made by our organization to pay for all
 of his travel expenses, the Chinese government refused to allow him to
 attend and receive the award. We nevertheless conducted a formal
 presentation ceremony in his honor and bestowed the award upon him even in
 his absence.
     Since the ceremony awarding the Courageous Advocacy Award, Gao Zhisheng
 has continued to be openly critical of China's human rights abuses and
 restrictions on the practice of law in his country. It is our understanding
 that he was taken into custody on September 22, and to our knowledge, has
 been held by Chinese authorities incommunicado ever since. This is a most
 unfortunate occurrence for this very honorable man.
     China is an important nation with whom we have significant economic and
 political relations, and it is, of course, the venue for the 2008 Olympic
 Games. I am writing this letter to you to express ABOTA's concern for the
 welfare of Mr. Zhisheng and to request that appropriate diplomatic action
 be considered to attempt to secure his release and to attempt to lessen the
 suffering placed upon him and his family by the Chinese government for his
 exercise of what we all consider to be a basic human right of free speech.
     Gao Zhisheng is a leading dissident lawyer and writer, and is known for
 his writings on social justice and democracy. In 2005, his law firm was
 shut down by the Chinese authorities. In 2006, according to an official
 statement, Gao Zhisheng was accused of posting nine "seditious articles"
 and conducting 10 interviews with overseas media, which "defamed" China's
 central government and amounted to agitation aimed at overthrowing the
 state. The statement claimed the court had showed leniency by handing down
 a suspended sentence as Gao Zhisheng had "voluntarily reported other
 people's offenses and provided important clues to crack other cases". In
 September 2007, Gao Zhisheng published a book about his experiences
 entitled A China More Just (Broad Press USA, 2007).
     Founded in 1958, ABOTA is a national association of experienced trial
 lawyers and judges. ABOTA and its members are dedicated to the preservation
 and promotion of the civil jury trial right provided by the Seventh
 Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
     CONTACT: Brian Tyson at (800) 932-2682

SOURCE American Board of Trial Advocates