One of the foremost attorneys in China, Gao Zisheng believed in the rule of law, and began to try to use the law to protect human rights. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) describes what happened next:
He wrote an open letter to the United States Congress asking us to pay some attention to the lack of human rights that existed in China. For writing an open letter to members of the United States Congress in 2007, Gao Zhisheng, one of the most distinguished human rights — noted and distinguished human rights lawyers in China, was imprisoned for 58 days and brutally tortured.
. . . Mr. Gao Zhisheng has represented some of the most vulnerable people in China. They include persecuted Christians, coal miners and others. He always believed in the power of law; using the law to battle corruption, to overturn illegal property seizures, to expose police abuses, to defend religious freedom. He’s a devout Christian. He fought to protect those who engage in peaceful spiritual and religious practice in China.
And in 2005, they took away his license to practice law, closed his law practice. As I said, in 2007, they arrested him, threw him in prison and tortured him. Eventually he was released and brought back home and placed under police surveillance at home. The surveillance proved almost harsher than prison. In fact, a member of the communist police moved into their living room, prevented his daughter from going to school; his 16-year-old daughter barred from attending schools. 24-hour surveillance.
One year ago, on February 4, 2009, Gao Zisheng was again seized by the Chinese government. No one except his Chinese captors knew whether he was dead or alive. Finally, after continuing international pressure from citizens and free governments, the Chinese apparently leaked word in January to an Australian newspaper that he is still alive.
Those readers who know their English legal history know the stories of the great lawyers during the Tudor and Stuart reigns, who used the law to challenge the abuses of the monarchs. Those readers know the debt that every free American owes to those lawyers, who sacrificed so much–and sometimes their lives–to establish the rule of law. During the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts, the friends of a courageous lawyer who had been unlawfully imprisoned could resort to the Great Writ, the writ of habeas corpus, to secure a judicial hearing on his detention under the law.
There is no writ of habeas corpus in China, nor are there most of the other civil rights guarantees which are characteristic of a civilized nation with a free government. And so Gao Zisheng’s writ of habeas corpus will not be issued by a Chinese court, but its moral equivalent can be issued by the free people of the world: commanding that the body of Gao Zisheng, in the Chinese government’s custody detained, as it is said, together with the day and cause of his caption and detention, be safely brought forth. If you would like to sign a petition to free Gao Zisheng, or contact your elected officials to urge them to press for his freedom, or take other steps, click here.