China: Christian Lawyer Convicted of "Inciting Subversion'

Friday, December 15, 2006

(Compass Direct News) -- A Beijing court convicted human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng of “inciting subversion” on Tuesday (December 12) after he mysteriously entered a “guilty” plea, according to reports.

Advocacy group Human Rights in China and sources cited by Asia News questioned the sincerity of the guilty plea, as Gao’s family and attorney were not informed that he had been put on trial until the proceedings were over. The trial at Beijing’s No. 1 People’s Intermediate Court lasted less than a day.

Asia News reported that lawyers hired by Gao’s family said the conviction was based on his guilty plea, but that they were doubtful of its credibility as they were not allowed to meet with him.

Gao was represented in court by two government-appointed lawyers. Under Chinese law, anyone convicted of subversion may be sentenced for up to five years – or longer in serious cases.

An outspoken civil rights defender, the 42-year-old Gao was detained in August while visiting his sister’s home in Shandong province. He was officially arrested on September 21 and charged with “inciting subversion” against the state.

Police have prevented Gao’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, from visiting him in detention, claiming that as the case involved “state secrets,” Gao could not meet with his defense counsel until a formal indictment was declared, the International Herald Tribune reported yesterday.

A self-taught lawyer, Gao, along with several other Chinese lawyers, has represented clients filing lawsuits over corruption, land seizures, police rights abuses and religious freedom.

In recent months, Gao has also written three open letters to President Hu Jintao, calling on the Communist government to stop persecuting practitioners of the banned group Falun Gong.

National security police have threatened Gao on several occasions over the past year. On one occasion, he barely escaped what he termed an intended assassination attempt by police as he was out driving.

‘Useless to Hire a Lawyer’

Gao’s wife, Geng He, submitted a formal request for Mo to act as his defense lawyer on December 7. The following day, Beijing security police visited Geng at home and spent six hours trying to persuade her to void the contract, the Epoch Times reported yesterday (December 13).

According to Mo, this was a serious violation of China’s constitution, which gives every citizen the right to legal representation.

The police allegedly told Geng’s mother, “The outcome of this case will be determined solely by the authorities. It’s useless to hire a lawyer.”

Gao is not the only newly converted Christian among influential Chinese giving voice to social concerns. According to a recent report by Newsweek (July 24), growing numbers of lawyers, journalists, and other civic activists in China are converting to Christianity, finding support for their causes as well as personal strength in the teachings of Jesus.

After Gao’s arrest, Chinese house church historian Zhang Yinan wrote an open letter asking Christians worldwide to pray for Gao and for his wife and two children, who have been under house arrest since August.

“Gao Zhisheng is a member of the house church,” Zhang wrote. “Brothers and sisters with loving hearts should intercede for him, asking God to give him wisdom and courage, and helping him to regain freedom.”

Gao became a Christian just last year, on November 24, 2005. Zhang met Gao at a Bible study meeting and encouraged him to turn to Christ.

“I told him that the Christian brothers and sisters among the house churches had been praying for him,” Zhang said. “In response, Gao said, ‘I have committed my whole life to God.’”

Gao then began to attend meetings at The Ark, a Beijing house church founded by Yu Jie, a famous young writer who has also faced continual police harassment.

“Gao Zhisheng is a man of faith, and he really admires Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Yu said. “In many people’s minds, the Chinese government is unwittingly turning Gao into China’s version of Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.”

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