ABOTA urges U.S. involvement on behalf of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng

Dec 23, 2015, 13:00 ET from American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA)

DALLAS, Dec. 23, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Board of Trial Advocates sent an open letter to President Obama regarding Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Though released from prison last year, Gao has disappeared. The letter urges the President to take all possible steps to assure Gao's freedom, access to proper medical care, and that he be reunited with his family.

December 23, 2015

President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the members of the American Board of Trial Advocates and at the request of its National Board of Directors, I am writing you to request your assistance on behalf of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.

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. ABOTA membership consists of more than 7,500 lawyers and judges spread among 97 Chapters in all 50 States and the District of Columbia.

We have closely followed the plight of our fellow lawyer, Gao Zhisheng. We were reminded of Gao's history and current predicament on Oct. 10, 2015, when ABOTA presented the Courageous Advocacy Award to Morris Dees, Founder and Chief Trial Attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center. We remembered Gao because he is also a recipient of this award. In 2007, the award was presented to Gao, who was not present to accept because he was imprisoned in China.

Gao Zhisheng, 51, has been labeled a dissident by the Chinese government. For a decade, Gao was imprisoned, tortured and isolated from his family, friends and the community. He has not been allowed to practice law since 2005.

Gao was released from prison on August 7, 2014. He was staying with his wife's sister in Xinjiang under house arrest and was denied access to medical care. Gao's international lawyer, Jared Gensher from Washington, D.C., has stated that Gao had been "utterly destroyed." Geng He, Gao's wife, is desperate to get Gao proper medical attention. He has lost about 50 pounds and had developed dental problems, including lost teeth. His mental state is obviously in question due to years of abuse.

Recently, he had remained under tight surveillance, but as of Dec. 3, 2015, has disappeared, according to media reports. His latest disappearance could indicate he is being punished for again speaking out regarding human rights issues. Gao's wife, Geng He, who lives in the United States, said her daily contact with Gao has ended since his disappearance. Gao's elderly brother, Gao Zhiyi, told The Associated Press, "We cannot say anything."

While the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to silence Gao, the world continues to watch. He has been made an example of the Chinese Communist Party's determination to silence dissent, which a United Nations panel has called arbitrary and ruthless. Gao was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his fearless support of human rights in China. The nomination was jointly made by two highly respected Canadian lawyers, David Matas, the senior legal counsel of B'nai Brith Canada, and David Kilgour, one of the three longest-serving MPs in the Canadian House of Commons.

Despite worldwide recognition, Gao has suffered. The Chinese government shut down his legal practice. Security officers moved in next door to monitor the family. He was convicted of inciting subversion, and while in custody he was subjected to electric shock and other forms of torture. Incidentally, Gao never committed any crime, nor did he question Communist Party rule.

Thankfully, Gao's family fled in 2009 to Thailand and they were eventually granted political asylum in the United States. But Gao's condition has worsened. He has been kept in a cell so small he could walk barely two steps in any direction. There was no sunlight, no ventilation; just one five-watt bulb, burning dimly 24 hours a day. He was not allowed to read nor was he allowed to speak to anyone, not even the guards. He was fed one piece of bread and one bowl of watery cabbage a day.

For years, Geng He has waged a tireless campaign in the attempt to bring her husband to the United States. Throughout Gao's imprisonment, Geng He flew repeatedly to Washington, testifying before congressional panels in the hope that lawmakers would put pressure on Chinese authorities to free her husband.  She also wrote newspaper op-eds and posted to Twitter. On Sept. 9, 2014, Geng He spoke at a National Press Club Newsmaker and continued to plead for the assistance she needs to reunite her husband with his family.

In light of his recent disappearance, we fear that Gao's life is at stake. I admired your remarks in November of 2014 after meeting with President Xi when you said, "There have always been more common interests between China and the United States than the differences between us." We truly believe that Gao's safety is a matter about which both countries can agree.

On behalf of the 7,500 members of ABOTA, I respectfully request that you to urge President Xi Jinping to take all possible steps to assure Gao's freedom, access to proper medical care, and that he be reunited with his family. I ask you to put an end to the needless suffering endured by this champion of human rights.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Most Respectfully,

Joel W. Collins, Jr.
ABOTA National President

Mr. John F. Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State

Mr. Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General

Ms. Anita Decker Breckenridge
White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations

Ms. Valerie B. Jarrett
Senior Advisor, Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs

ABOTA National Executive Committee

Thor Halvorssen
President, Human Rights Law Foundation Washington D. C.

David Kilgour
Former Member of Parliament

David Matas
Senior legal counsel of B'nai Brith Canada

Willy Fautré 
Chairman, Human Rights Without Frontiers International

Dr. Sherry Zhang
Board member of the Sound of Hope Radio

For more information contact:
Brian Tyson at (214) 287-8351


SOURCE American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA)