Date: August 14, 2019
by Elizabeth Kendal
On 13 August 2017 Gao Zhisheng, Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, was reported missing [see RLPB 421 (30 Aug 2017)]. It was not the first time Gao had disappeared. Indeed, as Benedict Rogers noted on the first anniversary of Gao's disappearance, 'Gao's personal history reads like a glossary of human rights violations: torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance.' On this the second anniversary, we lift him up before our good and loving God, with faith anchored in the promise: 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Jesus, in Matthew 28:20).
In 2001, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) named Gao 'one of the nation's top ten lawyers' in recognition of his extensive pro bono legal work in defence of the poor. However, when Gao began challenging CCP policy through his defence of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners and house church Christians, he quickly became one of the nation's most persecuted lawyers. Gao was abducted and intimidated in secret detention in November 2004, December 2006 and again in September 2007, when he was held for 50 days and was tortured so severely that he tried to kill himself. He was abducted again in February 2009 and detained for 13 months, during which time his wife and two young children escaped to the USA. A month after his release, Gao was apprehended again in April 2010 and detained for 18 months, after which, in December 2011, he was sentenced to serve three years as a 'criminal who endangers national security' in the remote and infamously harsh Shaya Prison, Xinjiang.
When Gao was released in August 2014 he was 'a shadow of his former self' [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. He had lost 22kg and was suffering from malnutrition, a condition that had already caused half his teeth to fall out. He looked in a mirror but did not recognise himself, describing the sight as 'a record of hell in a face'. He struggled to walk and string a sentence together, let alone cope with the pain caused by his remaining teeth. Confined to house arrest in his mother's cave-house in the northern province of Shaanxi, Gao was isolated, surveilled and denied medical and dental care. Then, just when the Communist Party were thinking they had crushed him, Gao not only rallied, he wrote a detailed report on CCP repression and persecution, and a memoir - Unwavering Convictions - which was smuggled out and published, both in Chinese (June 2016) and in English (January 2017).
On 13 August 2017 a distressed and desperate Gao escaped house arrest. It took the authorities three weeks to track him down. On 5 September 2017 his family finally learned that Gao had been apprehended and taken to Beijing. On 11 November 2017 a 'security maintenance' officer told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that Gao was being held by state security police in Jia County and that he was 'fine'. The very next day RFA reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group had located Gao in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province. According to this group, Gao was being held in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care [see RLPB 432 (15 Nov 2017)].
A secret prison - officially known as 'Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location' (RSDL) - is 'a place where the law does not exist - a black hole'. An exiled Chinese lawyer has described it as 'a system for prolonged, pre-trial detention outside a formal, legal location'. In RSDL, officials have freedom to apply 'more severe, more terrible coercive measures than normal criminal detention ... [consequently] torture has become rampant under RSDL' [Amnesty International Urgent Action appeal for Gao Zhisheng: 16 April 2019]. It is not difficult to understand why the people of Hong Kong are so desperate to resist Beijing's expanding reach [see last's week's RLPB 514 (7 Aug)].
In his memoir, Unwavering Convictions, Gao writes: 'These torture sessions over the years actually gave me a wonderful gift, which is my faith in God. I was not a believer previously. Although handling the case of Pastor Cai Zhuohua [September 2004 to November 2005] had given me access to the Bible, it did not move me at the time. But once the Beijing authorities started persecuting me, I came to know God and became part of the brotherhood of Christians. I am especially grateful to brother Fan Yafeng [a 'renowned Christian and legal scholar'] for helping me come to know and receive God. This greatly enhanced the quality of my life as well as my psychological strength in these difficult years' (p21). 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom awaits us when we close our eyes' (p139).
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* minister to and intervene for Gao Zhisheng (55); may Gao know with full assurance that his Heavenly Father's 'everlasting arms' are underneath him (Deut 33:27), his Good Shepherd Saviour walks with him (Psalm 23) and the Spirit who indwells him will sustain him (John 14:15-17).
* minister to and intervene for all China's persecuted and incarcerated Christian pastors, evangelists and church members, as well as other peaceful religious people; may he also minister to and intervene for all the persecuted and incarcerated human rights advocates and activists who risk life and liberty in pursuit of justice, truth, righteousness and religious freedom.
* continue to build, equip and sustain his Church in China in preparation for the day when he, the Almighty God, will intervene and the Chinese Communist Party will be 'cast out' and 'cut down' (Ezekiel 31) and 'called to account' (Psalm 10) and China's Church will be free.
Until that day, please pray for the Church in China: may the Sovereign Lord be her strength; may he make her feet like the feet of a deer and enable her to go on the heights. AMEN. (Adapted from Habakkuk 3:19).