AP Interview: Chinese lawyer not giving up despite torture

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Posted: Jun 14, 2016 6:57 AM
AP Interview: Chinese lawyer not giving up despite torture

BEIJING (AP) — One of China's best-known dissident lawyers said his newly launched memoir is his latest act of resistance to show he has not been silenced by years of solitary confinement and torture, accounts of which have drawn international criticism of Beijing.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Gao Zhisheng, 52, who has been living under near-constant surveillance by Chinese authorities since his release from jail in 2014, said he wrote his book "to expose the truth and crimes of this regime." The Chinese-language book, titled "Stand Up China 2017 — China's Hope: What I Learned During Five Years as a Political Prisoner," was launched in Hong Kong on Tuesday at an event attended by Gao's daughter.

"This book is my way of posing resistance," Gao said in Monday night's interview, which was conducted over a messaging app instead of by phone to circumvent surveillance and interruption. "I wrote it secretly because I had to hide from the minders who watch me around the clock."

He said he kept the book a secret even from his family to avoid endangering them.

In the book, Gao recounts the torture he says he endured, as well as the three years he spent in solitary confinement. It was the strength of his Christian faith and his unwavering hope for China that sustained him in that period of isolation, he said.

A spokeswoman for China's Public Security Ministry, which oversees the police, said the ministry hadn't been directly involved with Gao's case and had no information about his treatment while in custody or in prison. The spokeswoman, who gave only her surname, Wang, said only local authorities were qualified to answer questions about Gao's claims.

Gao's interview and book come as Chinese authorities wage what rights groups say is one of the most severe crackdowns on the country's rights-defending legal community in recent memory. Several Chinese rights lawyers have been arrested on state subversion charges that carry potential life sentences. Activists say the use of such charges indicates that the ruling Communist Party sees this group of lawyers as a threat to its grip on power.

Authorities are also putting lawyers on trial on other charges. On Friday, Xia Lin, a rights lawyer whose clients have included dissident artist Ai Weiwei, will stand trial in Beijing for fraud.

Gao had won international renown for his courage in defending members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement and fighting for farmers' land rights. After he was detained, he upset the authorities by publicly denouncing the torture he said he had suffered.

When Gao was released from prison straight into house arrest in August 2014, the formerly outspoken lawyer could barely walk or speak a full, intelligible sentence, raising concerns that one of the most inspirational figures in China's rights movement had been permanently broken — physically and mentally. Since then, he has kept a low profile while living in a small village in Shaanxi province, several hundred kilometers (miles) from Beijing, giving the AP his first interview in five years early last year.

International rights groups have condemned Gao's treatment both in and out of custody, and the U.S. government has urged China to allow him to come to the U.S. to be reunited with his family if he chooses. His wife lives in San Francisco.

Presenting Gao's book in Hong Kong on Tuesday was his 23-year-old daughter, Grace Geng, who said it has been seven years since she last saw her father. Geng said her father was not well and that his teeth in particular needed urgent treatment that he has been denied. She said she, her mother and brother, who all fled to the United States in 2009, have limited communication with him.

"At the very beginning, I did not totally understand. I wondered why our father couldn't be with us," said Geng, sobbing with emotion. "But ... after some time, I came to think of his decision as truly great. He loves the Chinese people so much that he put his family in second place. I think that what he thinks is very, very great, so I am very proud of it."

In a sign of the chill Beijing's influence has cast over Hong Kong, Gao's book is being published in Taiwan and will not at first be sold in the semi-autonomous Chinese-controlled city, Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho told the AP.

Books on sensitive political topics have increasingly been pulled from mainstream Hong Kong bookstores or consigned to the back shelves. Several men associated with one of the leading independent publishers of such tomes briefly went missing last year amid strong suspicions they had been taken away by the Chinese security services.

During the interview with the AP, Gao said that he missed his family deeply, but chose to remain in China in the hope of someday playing a role in changing the country. Gao said he didn't fear being taken back to prison.

"Once one has chosen to engage in combat, then there is no such thing as giving up. It is defeating to think about those things," he said.

"My only worry is that I have affected the lives of my wife and children," he said. "I'm indebted to them eternally, because I love them more than my own life, but I cannot attend to their needs now."

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AP videojournalists Aritz Parra in Beijing and Annie Ho in Hong Kong contributed to this report.