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MPs, Activists Call for Release of Human Rights Lawyer

By Matthew Little, Epoch Times
March 03, 2009

Former MP David Kilgour and Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, at a press conference calling for the release of missing Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. (The Epoch Times)

Gao Zhisheng was one of China’s most highly acclaimed lawyers before his defense of human rights brought the fury of China’s ruling communist party upon him.

Canadian parliamentarians and human rights defenders on Monday morning spoke up for Mr. Gao, calling attention to his most recent disappearance which occurred after his disclosure of nearly two months of torture inflicted while he was imprisoned in 2007.

Mr. Gao recently recounted the torture he suffered in an open letter.

“The electric shock batons were thrust all over me, and my full body, my heart, lungs and muscles began jumping under my skin uncontrollably. I was writhing on the ground in pain, trying to crawl away,” he wrote.

“Every time when I was tortured, I was repeatedly threatened that, if I spelled out later what had happened to me, I would be tortured again. I was told, ‘This time it will happen in front of your wife and children.’”

David Kilgour, former MP and Minister of State for Asia Pacific, spoke of Mr. Gao’s past and present.

“It is not widely known that Gao Zhisheng was born in rural China in a cave. And his family was so poor that they couldn’t even afford $10 for a casket for his father when he died. He has had an extraordinary life.”

Mr. Kilgour went on to describe how Mr. Gao had risen to become one of China’s top ten lawyers, and that he donated his time to many who needed his help. He described him as “an extraordinary human being.”

Gao has now been missing for almost five weeks.

Mr. Kilgour read from two letters from the Canadian Friends of Gao Zhisheng, a group supporting the rights defender. One of the letters, to Chinese leader Hu Jintao, said the Chinese regime had wrongly accused Mr. Gao of interfering with Chinese affairs and called for Gao’s release.

“President Hu, social cohesion cannot be achieved until you stop your government’s violent repression of your own people. Please free Mr. Gao Zhisheng immediately.”

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada said that Mr. Gao “is by any measure, plain and simple, a human rights hero.”

Mr. Neve said Mr. Gao was at the very forefront of human rights advocacy in China and part of a small but courageous group of attorneys that have tried to defend human rights in Chinese courts, often knowing that they could be subject to severe abuse themselves.

“That most certainly, aptly describes Gao Zhisheng, his brave defense of human rights  and the grueling personal cost he has paid. Gao Zhisheng is a remarkable, inspiring human rights lawyer who has recently and repeatedly spoken out on behalf of groups and individuals in China whose basic rights have been viciously repressed, including Falun Gong practitioners, underground Christians and democracy activists.”

Mr. Gao’s reward, he said, “has been a relentless campaign of human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary arrest, unlawful imprisonment, and threats and harassment.”

He added that it is “beyond question” that Mr. Gao has been detained by Chinese security forces and that he is being held in a secret undisclosed location.

“There is every reason in the world to fear that in such circumstances that he is once again at very grave risk of torture. The Canadian government must forcefully take up his case with Chinese authorities and encourage other governments to follow our lead”

Wayne Marston, MP for Hamilton East – Stoney Creek, is the NDP’s advocate for human rights and sits on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

Mr. Marston mused that in Canada, he can step up to a microphone such as the one before him at the press conference and voice any number of opinions freely.

Mr. Marston said it was crucial that Canada sustain and maintain our reputation as a defender of human rights both at home and abroad.

“It is important for our government, through our Foreign Affairs minister, to contact the Chinese government and ensure that they understand our concerns and our country’s concerns and our peoples’ concerns and that we work hard to bring this individual back.”

Grace Wollensak from Falun Dafa Association of Canada also spoke, saying Gao was largely imprisoned for his efforts to defend the rights of Falun Gong practitioners.

“His horrific treatment should be a wake-up call to the international community about the Chinese regimes total disregard for human rights and the rule of law,” she said.

Wollensak said the torture and abuse that Mr. Gao has faced resembles what his Falun Gong defendants have been subjected to. She said over 3242 practitioners are confirmed dead due to persecution.

“That really highlights the life threatening danger that is facing Gao.”

Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae said he supported fellow Liberal Irwin Cotler’s call for the release of Mr. Gao. (The Epoch Times)

In his recent letter, Gao recounted how his torturers told him they would use on him the twelve rounds of torture they used on Falun Gong practitioners and that afterwards they would torture him to death without his body ever being found, she said.

“His torturers repeatedly linked his treatment to that of Falun Gong.”

“We call on Canada to demand the Chinese authorities release Gao and stop the persecution of Falun Gong, the cause that Gao has fought so courageously to defend.”

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler has also issued a statement calling on the Chinese authorities to release Mr. Gao.

When the Liberal’s Foreign Affairs critic, Bob Rae, was asked if he supported Mr. Cotler in that call, he said, “We’re very proud in the Liberal Party that we have someone like Irwin who is fighting for human rights and of course I support his call.”

During the press conference, Mr. Neve and Mr. Kilgour both said that Canada in the past has often been quiet on the human rights abuses by the Chinese regime but that Prime Minister Stephen Harper deserved some credit for speaking more directly in defense of human rights.

Mr. Neve said Canada needs a comprehensive strategy for human rights in China.

He noted that Canada has several elements in its relationship with China: cultural, immigration, educational exchanges, trade and investment.

“What we need, finally, is a strategy that looks at that relationship in a holistic sense and makes sure that human rights are right at the forefront of all of the ways that we deal with China.”

Mr. Marston said Canada can play a unique role because of its international reputation.

“We play far above our political weight in the world.” He said other countries look to Canada as a trusted voice on human rights.

“If we are out there ignoring human rights totally, we’re going to create a problem in our reputation.”

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