DALLAS (Dec. 18, 2007) — Gao Zhisheng, the recipient of the American Board of Trial Advocate’s 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 “...one 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.