RLPB 432. China: Christian advocate confined in an ‘infinite darkness’.
By Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
In 2001, the Chinese Ministry of Justice officially recognised committed Christian human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng, as ‘one of China’s top ten lawyers’. Eventually, however, Gao’s ardent defence of the oppressed and persecuted, as well as open letters protesting Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy and practice, saw him fall foul of the system. Stripped of his lawyer’s licence, Gao was first imprisoned in 2006. Since then he has been in and out of prison, forcibly ‘disappeared’, beaten and brutally tortured, held for extended times in solitary confinement, isolated and denied access to medical care — all because he refuses to be silenced. In 2009, Gao’s wife and children escaped to the US. Content in the knowledge that his family is safe, Gao has steadfastly refused to leave China; for he is convinced that God has called him to ‘bear his cross’ inside China.
When Gao Zhisheng emerged from three years secret detention in August 2014, the internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate was a shadow of his former self; indeed many surmised he’d been ‘utterly destroyed’ [see RLPB 275, August Update (Aug 2014)] Clearly the CCP was sending a message: ‘This is what happens when you criticise the CCP.’ Doubtless the CCP assumed it had broken Gao and terrorised all rights advocates into silence. Doubtless China’s rulers were ‘testing the waters’ to see how much violent repression the ‘international community’ would allow them. [Plenty, so it seems!]
Subsequently placed under house arrest, isolated and denied access to medical care, Gao could have withered and died; but he did not. Like Samson, he recovered and re-focused. After years of secret detention, Gao threw his energy into secret writing. Defying serious health issues and intensive supervision, he was able to write both a memoir and a 40-page human rights report while working on a new constitution. Smuggled out of the country at great risk, Gao’s secret writings have since been published [see below]. Furthermore, Gao also communicated secretly. In an interview with the Chinese language New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television on 7 August, he criticised the CCP for its suffocating repression and brutal tyranny. Then, on 13 August, Gao ‘disappeared’. [See RLPB 421, August Update, (Aug 2017).]
On 3 November China Aid Association (CAA) revealed that Gao had escaped from his government minders with the assistance of two friends who had been desperate to get him medical care. Though they managed to evade the authorities for 23 days, the large contingent of officers deployed to find him eventually succeeded. Gao was quickly ‘disappeared’ into secret detention while his friends — Shao Zhongguo and Li Fawang — were both arrested. Whilst Shao has not been seen since, Li (a diabetic) has been released, albeit not before suffering a bout of cruel punishment.
On 12 November Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers’ Concern Group had managed to locate Gao. According to the group, Gao is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. In a smuggled sound-bite delivered to RFA, Gao said the conditions are even worse than those he experienced in Shaya Prison, Xinjiang (2011-2014). He said he feels like he is confined in an ‘infinite darkness’. His supporters fear for his life.
As long-time religious liberty expert and advocate, Benedict Rogers, wrote recently in the Hong Kong Free Press (11 Novembers): ‘Gao’s work is a challenge to us all. It deserves to be read in the corridors of power. He has acted with extraordinary courage and is paying a very high price for his conscience. It is time for the rest of the world to rediscover its conscience, stand up to China and, at a minimum, demand Gao’s release.’
PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
* intervene to ensure Gao’s writings are not only spread and read far and wide, but that they will have the desired impact; may they facilitate change in China.
* intervene to facilitate the release of Gao Zhishang and all China’s abused and incarcerated human rights defenders.
MAY OUR MERCIFUL GOD pour out his Holy Spirit abundantly to comfort and sustain our brother Gao Zhisheng:
* may he rest in the assurance that nothing that separate him from the love of Christ Jesus who is all the while interceding on his behalf. READ and pray Romans 8:31-39
* may his cell become a sanctuary, i.e. miqdas (Hebrew) a place where God dwells (from Isaiah 8: 11-15).
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
IN CHINA, CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN ‘INFINITE DARKNESS’
When Gao Zhisheng, committed Christian human rights attorney and religious liberty advocate, emerged from three years’ secret detention in August 2014, many surmised he was ‘utterly destroyed’. Confined to house arrest and denied access to medical care, Gao (who has survived appalling torture) could have withered and died, but he did not — he recovered. Despite intensive supervision, Gao wrote both a memoir and a 40-page report on human rights in China. These secret writings were smuggled out and have since been published. On 13 August Gao ‘disappeared’. Recently Gao’s supporters discovered that he is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. They fear for his life. Please pray for Gao and for China and its Church.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).