World calls him ‘China’s Conscience’—but this human rights lawyer is severely tortured in his homeland!

When this brave-heart was born to an extremely poor family in a hillside cave in Yulin city, in northern China, who knew one day he’d be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize thrice, and referred to by the common people as “the Conscience of China.” As one of the most unyielding and iconic advocates China has ever seen, Gao Zhisheng’s journey has been truly remarkable!

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Gao lost his father when he was barely 11 years old. As his family was too poor to send him to school, he gained basic education by listening carefully from outside the windows of a village classroom. To support his family, he also worked briefly as a coal miner before attending secondary school with the help of an uncle. He then joined the People’s Liberation Army and upon his discharge became a food vendor.

But his life took an unexpected turn in 1991 when he came across a newspaper article stating that the country was looking to train new lawyers in a bid to develop the legal system. Gao studied law by himself, passed the national bar examination and became a lawyer in 1995.

Influenced by his humble roots and his tenets based on morality and compassion, Gao spent a third of his time each year offering free legal service to the poor and defenceless. He has fearlessly sought justice for vulnerable groups such as the poor, the disabled, and the persecuted.

He was named as one of the 10 best lawyers in China for his work in defending victims of medical malpractice and fighting for just compensation for dispossessed landowners.

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From Praise to Torture

However, Gao had slowly begun to incur the wrath of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by defending farmers in land compensation cases and house church members.

In 2005, he showed the immense courage to defend the victims of the most severely tortured spiritual group called Falun Dafa, a peaceful practice of meditation and exercises based on the universal values of Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance. Gao wrote open letters to the former head of state Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao calling for an end to the inhumane torture of Falun Dafa practitioners. As a result, CCP officials attacked him, closed his law firm, and revoked his lawyer’s license.

In a characteristic response, Gao publicly resigned from the communist party in December 2005, calling it the “proudest moment in his life.”

In spite of the threats received by the CCP, Gao has remained undeterred and responded nonviolently by launching nationwide hunger strikes to intensify the call for justice and human rights in China. After continuous death threats and harassment, Gao was convicted of “subversion” on Dec. 22, 2006, and sentenced to three years in prison. He was released soon after for reasons unknown.

Gao Zhisheng. L: Nov. 2, 2005 at his office in Beijing. (Verna Yu/AFP/Getty Images); R: Photo from 2017. (circulated from activists in China)

On Sept. 21, 2007, he was taken into official custody again and tortured for nearly 50 days. He was released in November 2007 and threatened with death if he dared to speak about his torture. However, Gao remained fearless.

The outspoken lawyer then issued a statement via the China Aid Association (CAA) claiming that his captors had beaten him mercilessly, thrust electric prods into various parts of his body, and inserted toothpicks into his genitalia. The CCP officials also held cigarettes near Gao’s eyes and nose until they were filled with smoke and urinated on his face when he was unconscious.

File image, human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng. (The Epoch Times)

His book Unwavering Convictions: Gao Zhisheng’s Ten-Year Torture and Faith in China’s Future reveals a deep belief and commitment to the good of humanity despite suffering some of the cruelest and most disturbing forms of torture at the hands of the CCP. Gao’s first memoir, A China More Just, is also a good read for anyone looking to gain knowledge at a grassroots level of the situation in mainland China.

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A True Hero

Till date, Gao has been kidnapped publicly several times and tortured. In spite of all the persecution, he hasn’t let go of his principles, and says that he will continue to stand against the forces of evil as long as his physical shell can support his spirit. Even though his family members have managed to seek refuge in the United States, Gao has opted to stay in China and give everything to end the CCP’s persecution against innocent people.

Gao’s daughter, Grace Geng, has great admiration for her father considering the suffering he has undergone over the years for speaking out against the persecution of vulnerable groups, including Falun Dafa practitioners and human rights lawyers.

Grace Geng, Gao Zisheng’s daughter, holds a copy of Gao’s new book at the book launch ceremony, in Hong Kong on June 16, 2016. (Stone Poon/Epoch Times)

Speaking to the Epoch Times, she says: “To him, for whatever he thinks is right, he is prepared to bear the consequences. I think what is important is to have no fear, if it is right, if it is something righteous, be persistent and finish it.”