(New York, August 9, 2014) – The prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was released from prison on August 7, 2014, yet his true freedom remains uncertain, Human Rights Watch said today. Gao should be set free without any police surveillance or restrictions on his movements, and given immediate access to adequate medical treatment.
Gao, 50, was released from Shaya Prison in Xinjiang, and went to the home of relatives in Urumqi, accompanied by his brother.
“Gao Zhisheng might be out of prison, but the true test is how the authorities will now treat him,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Beijing gets no credit for releasing him if he remains effectively incarcerated.”
Few details have been made available about Gao’s circumstances or condition, suggesting that he and/or his family members may be under police surveillance or accompanied by security officials.
Since his release, Gao has only told his family that many of his teeth are loose. In recent months, Gao’s family expressed concern that he is in poor health and that he may have been tortured or ill-treated in prison. Since his release, Gao has told his family of problems with his teeth, and his brother said that they will visit dentists in Urumqi. They then plan to travel to their family’s home in Yulin, Shaanxi. It is unclear what their plans are afterward.
Human Rights Watch is concerned about Gao’s treatment. As part of his 2006 sentence, Gao is to be deprived of his political rights for a year after his release. Under Chinese criminal law, that means that he will not have the rights to “free expression, association, assembly, publication, vote, and to stand in elections.” But in recent years other high-profile activists such as Hada, have been subjected to even greater restrictions, such as house arrest, during their post-release period of deprivation of political rights.
“Gao has endured disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture. His only reality going forward should be unconditional freedom,” said Richardson.