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 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Gao Zhisheng

Statement to the National Press Club Press Conference
on Persecuted Chinese Groups
16 July 2008, Washington DC
by David Matas

The phrase "constructive engagement" has two words and has two distinct meanings.  The first is that there must be engagement.  The second is that the engagement must be constructive.  For the visit of US President George to China for the Olympic Games to be constructive, he must engage Chinese President Hu Jintao on the case of Gao  Zhisheng.

In 2001 China's Ministry of Justice had rated Gao as one of China's top ten lawyers.  He had advocated on behalf of a long list of clients in difficult situations - for instance, coal miners suing their employers and a client demanding compensation for his home confiscated in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.  

Gao wrote three open letters protesting the persecution of the Falun Gong written in December 2004, October 2005, and December 2005. Following the second letter, the Beijing Bureau of Municipal Justice suspended the operation of his office for one year.  In December 2005, his licence to practice was revoked. 

The response of Gao to this behaviour was to resign publicly from the Communist Party and to write his third letter.  Following the third letter, he received calls from the police.  The police told him that he had crossed the line and put himself in a difficult position.  The police said that he, his wife and children were all under investigation.  Starting in December 2005, he and his family were put under constant police surveillance.

The police arrested him in January 2006 for filming the police after he noticed them filming him.  This time the police threatened to kill him.  A few days later, also in January, a car with covered licence plates followed by a military vehicle also with covered licence plates attempted to run him over. 

Gao responded by organizing a relay hunger strike.  Lawyers and rights activists fasted in turn for one or two days to protest state persecution.   In response the state arrested his office staff.  Gao had kept his office open despite his disbarment; but from mid February 2006 he had to continue his work without staff.

After the first reports surfaced of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in March 2006, Gao wrote about

and condemned the practice.  The allegations were that Falun Gong were killed for their organs and their bodies cremated, that their organs were used for transplants to customers from around the world paying huge sums.  Gao expressed his willingness to join the Coalition to Investigate Persecution against the Falun Gong.

The Coalition, in May 2006 asked David Kilgour and me, as independent experts, to investigate and write a report on the allegations into organ harvesting.  David Kilgour is a former member of the Canadian government, a former Minister for Asia and the Pacific. 

Gao invited David Kilgour and me over to China to carry on our research.   In his invitation letter, he wrote:

"As all my [land] telephones and networks have been cut off, I can only communicate [by cell phone] through reporters and the media." 

And that is indeed how we got our invitation letter, through the media.  Gao phoned in our invitation to a reporter.  The reporter in turn phoned one of our interpreters to pass on the invitation.  The reporter then filed the invitation with her newspaper, the Epoch Times, which printed it in their issue of June 11, 2006.

Shortly thereafter, on August 15, Gao was arrested, tortured, prosecuted for inciting subversion, convicted on December 12, and sentenced on December 22, 2006 to three years suspended for five years.  Though the jail sentence was suspended, he went into house arrest.

On September 13, 2007, while in house arrest, Gao wrote an open letter to the US Congress asking the Congress to express its concerns about Chinese human rights in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics.   On September 22, 2007, he was driven away from his home by ten plainclothes policemen and disappeared into state hands.  He remains disappeared to this date. 

David Kilgour and I have nominated Gao for the Nobel Peace Prize.  The American Board of Trial Advocates Directors Meeting June 30,2007, Santa Barbara, California presented the Courageous Advocacy Award to Gao Zhisheng.   Gao was only the third recipient of this award in fifty years and the first sole recipient.  When President Bush meets with President Hu Jintao, he must raise the case of Gao Zhisheng. 

David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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