Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 5 News List

UN body calls on China to free rights lawyer

MISSING:The location of Gao Zhisheng has been unknown since April last year, when he briefly reappeared after having been abducted in 2009

Reuters, BEIJING

China’s best known rights lawyer, missing for almost a year, is being detained in violation of international law, a UN human rights body said in a statement made public yesterday, and it called for his immediate release.

The whereabouts of Gao Zhi-sheng (高智晟), a Christian lawyer who helped defend members of China’s banned Falun Gong spiritual group, have been unknown since April last year, when he resurfaced briefly after being abducted from his relative’s home in Shaanxi Province in early February 2009.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention said China’s government should “provide for reparation of the harm caused” to Gao, who has previously claimed he was tortured in detention.

“The UN Working Group held that the detention violated international law because Gao’s disappearance was punishment for exercising his fundamental human rights and because the government failed to meet even the minimum international standards for due process,” the group said in a statement.

The group, composed of independent experts in human rights and international law from Senegal, Pakistan, Chile, Norway and Ukraine, adjudicates in complaints about arbitrary detention worldwide. It reports to the UN Human Rights Council.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling comes amid an intensified crackdown on lawyers, bloggers and dissidents in China as the Chinese Communist Party clamps down on the risk of unrest, particularly after online calls for “Jasmine” pro-democracy gatherings in the wake of civil unrest in parts of the Middle East.

Dozens of dissidents have disappeared and their families and human rights activists fear they face long periods of “extra-judicial” incarceration.

In an opinion piece published on Sunday on the New York Times Web site, Gao’s wife, Geng He (耿和), appealed to US President Barack Obama to seek the release of her husband.

Geng, who has sought asylum in the US with her family, said Obama should ask Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to allow Gao to contact his family.

“The Chinese government must not be allowed to claim that China is a nation operating under the rule of law while persecuting those who try to ensure that it respects the law,” Geng wrote. “And when the government silences dissent, the international community must speak up.”

On Friday last week, a Chinese court sentenced a leading Chinese dissident to 10 years in prison for urging democratic reform of the one-party state, an unusually harsh sentence that rights campaigners say could bode ill for other detained activists.

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