Thursday, February 11, 2010

China's worst 'disappearance'

The article below is from our friend David Aikman. David was a journalist with TIME Magazine for 23 years, and is now a professor of history at Patrick Henry College in Virginia. He has authored more than a dozen books, including "Jesus in Beijing" (Regnery, 2003), "Billy Graham: His Life and Influence" (Thomas Nelson, 2006) and "The Delusion of Disbelief" (Tyndale, 2008). His latest book, "The Mirage of Peace" (Regal), was released in September. Aikman is also the founder of Gegrapha, an international fellowship for Christians in the mainstream media.

"Disappeared," in Spanish desaparecido, is one of the most hideous terms to enter the evil lexicon of international human rights abuses. It was first used during the rule of the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 and it denoted people who had been disappeared – an intransitive verb become transitive – because organs of state power had kidnapped them, made them vanish from view, and often murdered them clandestinely.

Until very recently, "disappearing" people was not commonly associated with organs of state power in China. Political dissidents, unapproved Christian evangelists and others who annoyed the regime would normally be arrested for "subversion" or some other catch-all word. Then they would be put on trial at a closed hearing, swiftly convicted, and dispatched to some camp on the outskirts of China's laogai, its "reform-through-labor" gulag. But in one of the most sinister examples of China's growing repression of its dissidents, a prominent human-rights lawyer and Christian, Gao Zhisheng, was kidnapped, held for 54 days and tortured in 2007, then kidnapped again by unidentified thugs early in 2009. In fact, the first anniversary of Gao's most recent disappearance was February 4, 2010 -- by coincidence the date of the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.

Gao is no ordinary dissident. In fact, in 2001 China's own Ministry of Justice proclaimed him "one of the country's ten best lawyers." His Beijing-based Zhengzhi Law Firm had taken on numerable civil cases where ordinary citizens fought to secure legal rights – and in some cases compensation – from large enterprises and state organizations. Gao's problems seemed to arise, however, as he began to investigate the brutal repression of Falungong practitioners following their unauthorized demonstration outside China's Communist Party headquarters in 1999. Gao discovered -- as have many independent legal researchers -- that at least 3,000 FLG followers had been arrested and tortured to death while in detention. Outraged by the brutality of the regime and its blatant breach of normal legal procedures, Gao publicly resigned his Communist Party membership in 2005 and began to write open letters of denunciation to China's Communist chief, Hu Jintao, and its prime minister Wen Jiabao.

He and his entire family were then put under round-the-clock surveillance, with four plainclothes police thugs at one point assigned to keep watch on his then three-year-old son. Amnesty International claimed that security police in 2006 had tried to assassinate Gao in a faked car wreck. Gao was released from a 54-day detention in December 2007 after a "confession" had been extracted from him after days of absolutely brutal torture (electric shock batons to the private parts and toothpick jabs all over his naked body). On his release he recanted the confession.

As China's Olympic Games drew near, Gao drew more attention to himself by a long, open letter to the U.S. Congress pleading with the U.S. not to participate in the games. "Freedom, democracy, and the rule of law," he wrote in September 2007, "are the values China has longed for but has not been able to enjoy." In the letter he lashed out at China's Communist Party, describing it as "a criminal group that operates under the protection of state power." He described China's brutal one-child policy, with its forced abortions up through the ninth month or pregnancy, as "the largest genocide in the history of mankind" (based on the fact that the Chinese authorities have claimed to have ended 400 million pregnancies since the program began in the 1980s). The letter to the U.S. Congress quotes James Madison and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" -- and asserts that the Chinese communists are basically "less forgivable than the Nazis" because, he says, they have killed at least 80 million people since they first came to power.

Without doubt, Gao's direct assault on the legitimacy of the Communist Party must have not only put him beyond the pale for its Public Security Bureau but stirred them up to wreak especial pain in their torture of him. Essentially, the Chinese authorities seem now to be outsourcing their judicial violence to groups with genuinely psychopathic character and virtually no accountability to state authorities for what they do. To quote Gao in his letter to the Congress again, "the whole nation is subdued by a small group of hooligans who segregate and persecute people, one group after another."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, understandably, has been deluged by requests for information about Gao, his well-being, and his whereabouts. In one bizarre episode last September, Chinese authorities claimed that Gao had gone for a walk and "gone lost," as if he were an absent-minded professor in Carmel, CA, rather than a tortured inmate of China's secret prisons. In February this year, a Chinese spokesman said that Gao was "where he should be" -- an Orwellian idiocy almost as absurd as the assertion he had "gone lost."

Gao is arguably the bravest and most heroic human-rights campaigner to have emerged in China for years. As China becomes financially more powerful and more assertive, its government will probably be more defiant about its human-rights record. The new practice of "disappearing" people is an outrage. Those interested in helping Gao should sign the petition at

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