“That degree of cruelty, there’s no way to recount it,” the civil rights lawyer said, his normally commanding voice quavering. “For 48 hours my life hung by a thread.”
The beatings were the worst he said he ever endured and the darkest point of 14 months, ending last March, during which Gao was secretly held by Chinese authorities. He described his ordeal to The Associated Press that April, but asked that his account not be made public unless he went missing again or made it to “someplace safe” like the United States or Europe.
Two weeks later, he disappeared again. His family and friends say they have not heard from him in the more than eight months since. Police agencies either declined to comment or said they did not know Gao’s whereabouts. The AP decided to publish his account given the length of his current disappearance.
Gao had been a galvanizing figure for the rights movement, advocating constitutional reform and arguing landmark cases to defend property rights and political and religious dissenters, including members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. His disappearance in 2009 set off an international outcry that may have played a role in winning his brief release last year.
Among democracy and rights campaigners, Gao appears to have been singled out for frequent, harsh punishment beyond the slim protections of China’s laws.