Grace Geng, the daughter of human rights lawyer GAO Zhisheng, shares her family’s harrowing story of the lengths the Chinese Government goes to in order to crush dissent.
In the early 1990s, an initiative led by Deng Xiaoping had a goal to train 150,000 new lawyers to help China modernise. My father was one of them.
He worked on many cases, but over time he found that the people coming to him for help often faced similar problems. He developed a reputation for being willing to represent dissidents and members of China’s religious minorities, including Christians and Falun Gong practitioners.
Gradually, he became known as a ‘rights defence’ lawyer. This is dangerous work in China.
Despite having been named "one of the country’s 10 best lawyers" by China’s Ministry of Justice in 2001, my father’s willingness to speak out against injustice soon began to upset the authorities. Eventually they arrested him.
In prison he was beaten and tortured with electricity. Left naked, starved and urinated on. You can read about his torture in his own words here.
In countries like America solitary confinement cannot be longer than 30 days because it’s known to cause mental break down. In China they locked my father in solitary confinement for three years.
Three years without any personal contact. They didn’t even let him stand up. When he got out, he had almost lost the ability to walk and talk.
It wasn’t just my father who felt the wrath of the Chinese authorities.
When he was imprisoned for the last time, I had just started high school. It was a horrible time for me and my mother.
Undercover policemen followed me to school. They beat me. They told the other students that my father was a traitor to our country and they were not to speak to me.
This was an extremely hard time for me and I often contemplated taking my own life. I even tried to on more than one occasion.
Thankfully my mother decided we couldn’t continue to live like that. We fled, first to Thailand and then on to America.
In 2014, my father was released from prison, but his situation is still dire. He is effectively under house arrest in his small village – under constant supervision and unable to be in touch with his old colleagues, or to continue his work.
The mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese Government has taken its toll on my father. Being held in horrible conditions and fed only a piece of cabbage and bread each day obviously had a terrible impact on his health. His teeth are all falling out, as is his hair. He needs to see a doctor and a dentist, but they won’t allow it.
For two years we’ve been pleading with the Government to let him see a doctor; this is a basic human right. But for two years we’ve been told by the relevant authorities, ‘We are working on it’. How long does the Government need to work on it? How long does it take to let him visit a doctor? It’s easy, just let him see his doctor.
I believe the Chinese Government is still afraid of my father because truth is power. They don’t want him in a position where he can speak to other people about his ideas.
I’m proud to say that his ordeal has not broken his spirit. My father continues to write and the English version of his latest book will be published in America in early 2017.
The book has three parts; it looks at his life, his time in prison and then importantly it looks forward and discusses his strong faith and his vision for how China will change and how it could be better.
As for me, I’m focusing on two things; my study and trying to raise awareness of my father’s situation.
The first semester of my senior year of college has just began, and I’ve returned from Geneva where I visited the International Service for Human Rights so that I can meet with various United Nations officials.
I’m glad to have the chance to live and study in America, but obviously I can’t just leave my father to such a horrible fate. And so, I find myself in a position of picking up the mantle and becoming a human rights defender like my father.
I want to urge the Human Rights Council to do all it can to encourage the Government of China to do the right thing and let my father receive professional, independent medical treatment.
As I said, truth is power, and I will continue to say it.