“In my fathers’s dream, a little girl knocked on his door, and she looked about seven or eight years old. She asked him if she could borrow his pen. In the real world, my father didn’t have a computer. He didn’t know how to type. All he had as a weapon to defend himself was a pen. My father said to her, ‘This is the only thing I have, and I can’t give it to you.’ And the little girl said, ‘After I’ve done with this pen, I will give it back.'” This was the dream that Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng retold 4 years ago in is his last conversation with his daughter Grace Gao.
According to Gao Zhisheng’s autobiography, he came from a low-income family in northern Shaanxi, and he joined the People’s Liberation Army for food and clothing when he was 21 years old. At 27, he moved to Urumqi, Xinjiang, where he pushed a cart and sold vegetables while studying on his own, then later graduated from the law department of Renmin University of China at the age of 30. In 1995, at the age of 31, Gao became a lawyer in Urumqi, and began practicing the following year. He helping many disadvantaged families and served as their pro bono defense attorney. In 2000, at the age of 36, Gao moved from Xinjiang to Beijing, where he established a law firm and was selected as one of the “Top Ten Outstanding Lawyers in China” by the Chinese Ministry of Justice in 2001.
During his tenure as a lawyer, Gao set a rule for the practice－one third of his cases were pro bono for the poor and disadvantaged. Gao even subsidized his clients out of his pocket. In 2005, the CCP regime took away Gao’s law license and began to curtail Gao’s freedom. In 2006, Gao was secretly arrested, charged with incitement to subversion, sentenced to a secret trial, and tortured in prison.
According to the Epoch Times, in 2006, then-Deputy Secretary of the CCP’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Zhou Yongkang created a task force, which met every Monday to compile domestic and foreign intelligence on the Gao Zhisheng case and the latest so-called “enemy developments.” Since 2006, Gao has disappeared several times, having been kidnapped and imprisoned by CCP. Despite his release from prison in 2014, Gao was under house arrest by the Chinese Communist authorities until August 2017, when he disappeared again and has not been heard from since.
This year, Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom in the Trump administration, and Katrina Swett, former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in the Obama administration, appeared at a conference on international religious freedom in the nation’s capital on July 13 to 15. Grace Gao, daughter of Gao Zhisheng, was invited to attend and revealed her father’s current status to the international community.
In recalling her life in China, Grace Gao said that it wasn’t just her father who was tortured; the whole family was tortured. They lived under 24-hour surveillance. “I remember an ordinary day in 2005, when my dad, at that time, was already in detention. When my mom told me that my dad was on a business trip, she took me to a local hair cutting shop. Then all of a sudden, a dozen people dressed in black appeared with huge cameras that kept shoving in our faces like flashlights. Then my mother went back to the apartment. When we got there, our nanny and my young brother were hiding in the corner. The police had completely emptied out our apartment. Then said all of our belongings were incriminating evidence.”
They even took away our pots and pans because even the pans were evidence,” Grace Gao said. From that day on, the police forbade them to go out. Seven to eight policemen lived in our apartment with her and her young brother. Grace vividly remembers that the police officers watching their house had a small notebook and recorded every movement they made. She continued, “Including when my brother cried–Why was he crying? When did I take a shower? How long did I take a bath? And other boring things.”
Grace Gao emphasized at the summit, “I would say there are tens of millions of families like mine under surveillance. They suffer in China only because they stand up for others and speak up for others. And they are experiencing tremendous suffering just because of their faith.” Grace and her mother left China when she was a teen in 2009, and now live in the Bay Area. When she was asked by a conference attendee if she had inherited her father’s work, she replied, “I try to think of myself a lot of times as a firefly, and I live in this very dark place. And then, when there’s no light, I believe I can light a lamp in myself because I’m a firefly. So in a way, I would say yes. I’m carrying on his legacy.”
Finally, Grace Gao told the conference she wants everyone to have hope in their hearts and pray for as many people as possible. “Because for a lot of people who are in prison, I think the only thing that keeps them alive is that people outside care about them and are still praying for them,” she said. “And that’s important. We can’t forget those people, even if we don’t know those people who need our faith.” Toward the end of the conversation, Tony Perkins, vice president of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Family Research Council, who was moderating the conversation, led a public prayed for Grace Gao and her father, “She’s picked up the torch of freedom from her father, even if it’s just for a short period of time. We pray that he’ll be back carrying that torch again.”
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