Key U.S. senators are calling for China to account for well-known Chinese human-rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who disappeared after he was forcibly removed from his home in Shaanxi province by police in February. The lawmakers made their appeals on the Senate floor as Gao's wife watched from the visitor's gallery in the chamber.
Senator Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, expressed strong concern about the case of Gao Zhisheng, who is currently missing and who human-rights groups believe is being tortured by Chinese authorities.
"For writing an open letter to members of the United States Congress in 2007, Gao Zhisheng, one of the most noted and distinguished human-rights lawyers in China, was imprisoned for 58 days and brutally tortured," said Senator Dorgan. "Now, in 2009, he was detained 80 days ago by 10 members of the secret police in China and has not been heard from since."
Human-rights groups say Chinese authorities threatened Gao with death if he revealed that he was tortured the first time he was detained. Despite the threats, Gao chose to publicly release details of his experience, and rights advocates say his current disappearance is the result of his refusal to be silent.
Senator Dorgan paid tribute to the work of Mr. Gao, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
"Mr. Gao Zhisheng has represented some of the most vulnerable people in China," he said. "They include persecuted Christians, exploited coal miners, and so many others. He always believed in the power of law, using the law to battle corruption, to overturn illegal property seizures, to expose police abuses, to defend religious freedom."
Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, called for the Chinese government to allow Gao to have access to a lawyer, access to his family, and to publicly state and justify the grounds for his continued detention.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, echoed the call:
"I certainly join with him in requesting the Chinese government make this matter right," said Senator Hatch.
Listening in the Senate chamber was Gao's wife, Geng He, who along with their two children, escaped from China on January 9 of this year and made their way to Thailand. Gao was forcibly taken from his home in Shaanxi Province February 4. His wife and children arrived in the United States earlier this month.
Senator Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted the presence of Gao's wife in the chamber without mentioning her name.
"We are not allowed to recognize people in the chamber listening to these remarks," said Senator Dodd. But let it be said that there is an individual who is witnessing these remarks who is the life of this individual and we thank her for her courage, her family's courage."
In an open letter to the U.S. Congress, Gao's wife appealed for help from the U.S. government to put pressure on Beijing to disclose the whereabouts of her husband.