Mon, Aug 21, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Chinese activists rally behind lawyer

RIGHTS DEFENDERS Gao Zhisheng's detention has become a symbol for all dissidents seeking to combat an increasingly repressive system in China

AGENCIES , BEIJING

Gao Zhisheng, an activist Beijing lawyer, is pictured here during an interview at a tea house in Beijing on Feb. 24.

PHOTO: AP

Chinese rights activists have demanded the release of lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), warning that his detention would become a focus of their efforts to expand political freedoms and legality.

Gao, 42, is a combative human rights lawyers whose causes have included disgruntled private oil investors, labor activists and rural protesters and members of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual group.

On Friday, Beijing police announced he had been detained "for suspected involvement in criminal activities," without specifying any charges.

"Whether as a lawyer or citizen, Gao Zhisheng has fully exercised his right to engage in civic rights defense activities and his freedom to express his political views," said a petition signed by 40 Chinese dissidents and activists at the weekend. "These rights should be respected and protected by the government."

The police announcement came the same day that China tried a blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), in the eastern province of Shandong, having earlier detained his main defence attorney until the hearing ended.

Also, Zhao Xin (趙昕), an AIDS activist, was ordered on Saturday to leave the capital and return to his home town of Zhaotong in Yunnan Province.

Dissidents said Gao would now become a focus for all Chinese "rights defenders" seeking to combat what they say is tightening government repression.

"Now he's become the most important case for all of us," Beijing-based activist Hu Jia (胡佳) said of Gao. "He's been the most prominent rights defender for a long time. People have different views about him, but we all agree his case will be an even more intense focal point than Chen Guangcheng's case."

Signatories of the petition circulated by e-mail included veteran dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波); Yu Jie (余傑), a Christian critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party who recently had a White House meeting with US President George W. Bush; and Ding Zilin (丁子霖), an elderly academic who has sought redress for families of people killed or maimed in the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

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