Public Statement - The Law Society of Upper Canada Expresses Grave Concerns about the Ongoing Detention and Whereabouts of Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng

TORONTO, May 6, 2014 /CNW/ - The Law Society of Upper Canada is gravely concerned about the ongoing detention and whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng.

Gao Zhisheng is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and a prominent human and civil rights lawyer in China. He is known for representing the human rights interests of religious minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners. During 2005, Gao Zhisheng's law licence was not renewed after he requested, through open letters to the Chinese government, an examination of the prosecution of followers of religious minorities such as the Falun Gong. In response, the Chinese government closed his law firm in November 2005 for one year. The government gave no valid reason for closing his practice.

In December 2006, Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three years in prison for "inciting to undermine the state". After international pressure, his sentence was converted into a five year suspended sentence. Gao Zhisheng then attempted to focus world attention on China's deteriorating human rights in an open letter to the American House of Representatives. In his letter, he stated that he could not support China hosting the Olympic Games. Shortly after, he was taken away by police officers, beaten unconscious and imprisoned for six weeks. In November 2007, Gao Zhisheng was placed under house arrest and denied any visitors, his bank account was frozen and his family was constantly harassed and intimidated by state security. After 2007, Gao Zhisheng went missing for 14 months beginning in February 2009. It was later revealed he had been placed in detention.

In late March 2010, Gao Zhisheng gave an interview where he described his ordeal and torture. Shortly after, on April 20, 2010, he was again taken into custody and detained. He was held for 20 months and had no contact with his lawyer or family members. In December 2011, state media reported that Gao Zhisheng would be sent back to prison for violating the conditions of his suspended sentence. He was imprisoned in the Shaya County Prison in a remote part of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. His family members have only seen him twice, in 2012 and once again in 2013. Gao Zhisheng was scheduled for release on August 22, 2013, but he has again disappeared.

To date, the Law Society has written two letters of intervention to China regarding the harassment, treatment and detention of Gao Zhisheng.

The Law Society is deeply concerned about situations where lawyers who work for the protection and respect of human rights are themselves targeted for exercising their freedoms and rights under international law. International human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that respect for human rights is essential to advancing the rule of law. Article 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states "governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely; and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics". Article 18 states "lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions".

The Law Society urges the government of China to:

a.      guarantee all the procedural rights that should be accorded to Gao Zhisheng and other human rights defenders in China;
b.      guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Gao Zhisheng;
c.      put an end to all acts of harassment against Gao Zhisheng and other human rights defenders in China;
d.      ensure that all lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations; and
e.      ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for 46,200 lawyers and 6,200 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada, and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.

The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in their effort to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law.

SOURCE: The Law Society of Upper Canada

For further information:

please contact Lisa Hall at 416-947-7625 or lhall@lsuc.on.ca.

The Law Society of Upper Canada
Osgoode Hall
130 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON  M5H 2N6


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