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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gao Zhisheng charged with subversion

Earlier this month Human Rights Watch organized an open letter to Huo Jintao asking for the release of Gao Zhisheng and rights advocates. Gao, the Nelson Mandela of China, had been arrested on August 15 at a relative’s home in Dongyin, Shandong Province by plain clothes officers. The free world is very concerned about his arrest complete with a possible jail term of five years. Check the Epoch Times for updates here.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has arrested outspoken human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng on charges of inciting subversion, his lawyer said on Thursday, following two months of uncertainty over the activist's detention and fate.

Gao was arrested on September 21 "on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power", lawyer Mo Shaoping said, adding that he had only now learned of the decision from prosecutors.

"In fact, it should be the public security bureau that notifies us. But I asked them repeatedly and got no reply, and only then went to the prosecutors," Mo told Reuters.

Gao, in his early 40s, is a famously combative rights lawyer who has taken up the causes of dispossessed oil investors, labor activists and -- most controversially -- members of Falun Gong, an outlawed spiritual sect.

His arrest marked another step in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's drive to stifle an expanding "rights defense" network across the country that seeks to expand citizens' rights through courts and publicity campaigns, said activists.

"In the government's eyes, Gao is the worst case. He's a lawyer who has spoken up for Falun Gong and refused to back down, even after they suspended his office license," Hu Jia, a Beijing-based dissident who knows Gao, told Reuters.

"Right now, the government's number one enemy is the rights defense movement, and Gao Zhisheng has been one of its leading figures."

Gao was detained by Beijing police in August, one of several prominent rights lawyers and activists who have been jailed, detained or put under house arrest in past months.

Earlier this year, Gao organized a rolling hunger-strike to protest police harassment of political activists.

He also helped campaign to seek the release of Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist sentenced to over four years jail in August on charges that critics said were trumped up by angry local officials.

Mo said he was not told of the specific accusations against Gao. Under Chinese law, those convicted of inciting subversion can be jailed for up to five years -- longer in serious cases.

The crime has often been directed at dissidents who publish criticisms of the government in print or on the internet. Gao had issued a public letter criticizing the Chinese government's crackdown on Falun Gong.

China's top security official, Luo Gan, warned in June that the "rights defense" movement harbored forces dedicated to overturning the Communist Party.

Mo said that up to now police had refused to let him visit his client.

"The public security bureau said that because it involved state secrets, we couldn't visit him. But inciting subversion is a public matter, you can't do it in secret, so we'll apply again to see him," he said.

Police now have months to continue investigating Gao before deciding whether to press for a trial, said the lawyer.

Gao's family is under house arrest in Beijing, according to Hu and other family friends, and could not be contacted by Reuters.

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