By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING/WASHINGTON (BosNewsLife)-- As Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States ended Friday, January 21, Chinese Christians and rights activists urged China to release jailed Christians, including a prominent human rights lawyer who defended house churches and other religious groups.
The call came amid new reports of Gao’s alleged torture in detention. Speaking a press conference in Washington, even Hu Jintao said China is a developing country before admitting, “...a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights”.
Fao said earlier that he had been beaten with pistols, tied up with plastic bags and, on one occasion, tortured incessantly for 48 hours. The prominent self-taught human rights lawyer, twice-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, first went missing on 4 February 2009.
Following a brief reappearance in March 2010, Gao went missing again on 20 April. "His current whereabouts are unknown," confirmed Bob Fu, a former Chinese house church pastor who now leads Texas-based advocacy group Christian Aid Association.
At a Congressional press conference in Washington, he criticized recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who suggested that China and the U.S. are equal partners who need to cooperate more closely, especially on economic issues. "As long as Mr. Gao Zhisheng is still missing and brutally tortured for simply promoting human rights and rule of law, it is not appropriate to call that regime an equal partner in the same boat."
THOUSANDS SIGN PETITION
He said some 150,000 people from all over the world, from over 185 nations, have spoken up, saying, "Free Gao! Let him come to the United States to be reunited with his wife and two children."
Fu explained that he had tried to halp the family resettle in Bangkok, Thailand, where he saw "the scars of Mr. Gao's daughter, left by her two attempts at suicide, because she could not endure the suffering of listening to the torture stories of her dad."
Gao's wife, Geng He said recently she is demanding answers from the Chinese government following what she called new revelations of torture of her husband. Gao, who was once named one of China’s Top Ten Lawyers by the Ministry of Justice, first attracted
attention from authorities for defending cases of religious persecution, including house church leaders and Falun Gong practitioners. In 2007 he wrote an open letter to the United States Congress highlighting the reported use of torture by Chinese authorities.
In China, an open letter signed by 19 Chinese human rights lawyers calling for an end to the use of torture in detention was released this week. The letter expresses grave concern at the harsh torture of Gao, and the treatment of Fan Yafeng, head of the Chinese Christian Human Rights Lawyers Association.
Rights groups say Fan was subject to "inhumane treatment" by police, including being hooded and beaten, during questioning in December 2010. Fan remains under strict house arrest in Beijing, activists say.
"A regime that would torture one of the most prominent Chinese constitutional law scholars, Fan Yafeng, is not worthy to be recognized as an equal partner in this boat" Bob Fu said in remarks obtained by BosNewsLife.
He said another "prisoners of faith" Li Heng was "tortured to death after his long-time imprisonment for the human rights cause..."
MORE CHRISTIAN PRISONERS
Fu also expressed concerns about other Christians, including Chen Guangcheng, jailed in his home, and Wang Bingzhang and Ping Ming who are serving life in prison "for simply being veterans in the fight for human rights and democracy".
Additionally Fu mentioned prominent Uyghur Christian Alimujiang Yimiti, serving a 15 year sentence since 2009 for his involvement in an underground independent Christian church. He said "Human rights and religious freedom should be treated as just as important as economic and other interests."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a major rights group investigating reports of religious persecution, said it had urged China to release all Christian prisoners. "As [Pesident] Hu Jintao returns to China from the U.S., CSW calls upon the Chinese President to live up to his commitment to do more in the name of human rights by releasing Gao Zhisheng and ending the house arrest of Fan Yafeng," said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in comments to BosNewsLife. "China’s rise in economic power must be matched by a commitment to abide by international and domestic law in the treatment of its citizens."
Before the president's admission that his country could at improve its human rights record, China's Communist government often denied religious persecution saying the estimated 130 millions Christians are free to worship in state-backed churches. Most believers however prefer to worship outside official control in what are known as 'house churches', according to church groups.