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Tortured Christian Lawyer Arrested as Officials Deny Abuses

2/11/09 China (CompassDirect) A Christian defender of human rights in China – whom authorities detained last week – detailed state-sponsored torture he suffered in 2007 in an open letter released on Monday (Feb. 9), the same day advocacy groups criticized a U.N. review of China’s treatment of Christians and other minorities for omitting serious abuses.

While a Chinese delegate at the U.N. review asserted that China would never allow torture against religious members or other minorities, the open letter by Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng – whom officials seized from his home on Feb. 4 in Shaanxi province – described 50 days of beatings and electric shocks on his mouth and genitals by state-sponsored thugs that left him desperate to die.

Gao and his family authorized China Aid Association (CAA) to release the letter, written on Nov. 28, 2007, when Gao was under house arrest in Beijing. Currently Gao’s whereabouts are unknown, according to CAA.

The letter gives a detailed account of torture he suffered in September and October of 2007. Gao said his official captors – some of whom he recognized – referred to a report he had written earlier on the torture of Falun Gong members and warned him that he was about to experience the same treatment. They urinated on Gao and repeatedly prodded his body, mouth and genitals with electric shock batons. Other methods used were too graphic and “horrible” to describe, Gao said.

Officials later asked Gao to write articles cursing Falun Gong and praising the government. When he refused, they pressured him to write a statement saying that Falun Gong practitioners had given him false evidence of torture, and that – despite constant harassment – the government had treated him and his family well. Gao said he signed this statement, as well as others in which he confessed to sexual impropriety, after beatings that left him unrecognizable and the insertion of toothpicks into his genitals.

“I can’t use any language to describe the helplessness, pain and despair that I felt then,” he wrote. “Finally I made up stories, telling them about affairs that I had with four women. After more repeated torture, I had to describe how I had sex with each of these women. This continued until dawn the next day.”

Skewed Review

During the U.N. review of China’s human rights record on Monday (Feb. 9), Chinese delegate Song Hansong of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said that use of torture to obtain evidence was a criminal offense and that China had “established a comprehensive safeguard measure against torture in all our prisons and detention facilities.”

“China is firmly against torture and would never allow torture to be used on ethnic groups, religious believers or other groups,” Song said.

Louis-Martin Aumais, speaking for Canada, had asked that China follow recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, particularly on the inadmissibility in court of statements obtained through torture. He also asked that China ensure fundamental legal rights for those detained on state security charges, including access to counsel, public trial and sentencing and eligibility for parole.

Australian representative Caroline Millar welcomed improvements in China over the past 30 years but expressed concern over “reports of harassment, arbitrary arrest, punishment and detention of religious and ethnic minorities.”

Li Baodong, ambassador and permanent representative of China at the United Nations, said that 50 government departments were working on a national human rights plan to be implemented this year and in 2010.

Rights groups such as CAA and Human Rights Watch stated that a summary of reports submitted for the review omitted documented details of serious human rights abuses, including the treatment of Christians and other minority groups. Omitted documentation that Non-Governmental Organizations had submitted included evidence of mistreatment of Christians, Tibetan and Uyghur minority groups and human rights defenders.

Documented Abuses

Harassment of house church Christians increased significantly last year, according to a CAA report released on Feb. 5. A total of 2,027 Christians were affected in incidents reported to CAA in 2008, compared with 788 people in 2007. Of the 2008 total, 764 Christians were arrested and detained, most for brief periods, and 35 were sentenced to prison terms or re-education through labor.

In Beijing, the total number of people persecuted was 539, up 418 percent from the 104 reported in 2007, CAA said.

“This is not hard to understand, because whenever the government holds important social events, serious suppression is implemented to maintain the appearance of stability through spreading fear among people,” the report states. “Beside the factor of the Olympic Games, we cannot ignore that the persecution of Christianity and of some other religions serves as an essential policy of the atheist Chinese Communist government.”

Local governments in China last year reported on continued measures to prevent “illegal” religious gatherings and curb other criminalized religious activities, according to reports from the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on Dec. 20 and Feb. 2. The commission consists of nine senators, nine house representatives, and five senior administration officials appointed by the U.S. president.

From information provided on a local government website, the CECC learned that authorities in Hechuan district, Chongqing municipality last October had launched a six-month campaign to root out “illegal venues for worship.” Authorities were concerned about “anti-Chinese political forces” using Christianity to “infiltrate the area” and outlined a five-point plan to address illegal worship sites, including the “transformation through re-education” of Protestant members of unauthorized meeting places.

A website of the Wuhan municipal government in Hunan province described draft legislation aimed at curbing freedom of worship in private homes; the new law would permit only immediate family members to take part in such gatherings.

The United Front Work Department in Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province, responsible for the oversight of religious communities, reported last year that work to “transform and expand the patriotism of underground Catholic forces” was a key objective, as these forces were exerting a negative impact on the city, according to the CECC. The Fuzhou department report also expressed concern about unauthorized Protestant preaching.

A Xinjiang government website also detailed a campaign to educate children and young people against ethnic separatism and illegal religious activities, according to the CECC.

Evidence from these sources concurred with reports from watch groups such as CAA regarding the closure of house churches, detention of house church members and harassment of house church leaders, the commission said.

Arrests on ‘State Security’ Charges

In Xinjiang, Uyghur Christians Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimit in Chinese) and Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese) both detained on state security charges, remain behind bars – one sentenced, the other still waiting for a trial date.

In a closed trial in September 2007, the Xinjiang State Security Bureau (SSB) had sentenced Osman to two years of re-education through labor for “revealing state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing.” Associates, however, said he knew nothing about state matters and was arrested for being an outspoken Christian and a leader in the Uyghur church.

Officials had called for a 10-15 year criminal sentence, but after international media attention they significantly reduced the term.

Xinjiang court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May last year, citing lack of evidence on charges of “inciting secessionist sentiment” and “collecting and selling intelligence for overseas organizations.” State prosecutors returned the case to court officials in mid-October for reconsideration.

During Alimjan’s employment with two foreign-owned companies, SSB officials regularly called him in for interrogation, forbidding him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007, they closed the business Alimjan worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity.”

Officials have since denied regular visits from lawyers or family members and threatened to hand down a sentence ranging from six years in prison to execution.

Lawyers had hoped for an early acquittal for Alimjan based on unfair treatment due to his Christian beliefs, but a lengthy bureaucratic process has dimmed these hopes.