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China Charges Activist With Subversion

Lawyer Gao Zhisheng arranged hunger strikes to protest violence against dissidents.

October 14, 2006|Robin Fields | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who organized hunger strikes this year to protest violence against dissidents, has been charged with inciting subversion, his attorney said Friday.

Gao was arrested Sept. 21, but the attorney, Mo Shaoping, said he had only recently received confirmation from the Chinese government. Mo said he had not been allowed to visit his client, nor had family members.

"The reason cited by the public security bureau for not letting lawyers visit Gao is that 'it involves state secrets,' " Mo said. "However, since Gao is charged with 'inciting subversion,' which means he did something in public, it cannot be related to state secrets."

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

Gao was detained in midAugust during a family visit to Shandong province and then officially held by Beijing police for more than a month before being charged.

Activists called his arrest part of a sustained push by the Chinese Communist Party to suppress "rights defenders" -- lawyers attempting to use the courts and media to press for expanded civil rights.

"What they have done is really bad," said Hu Jia, a Beijing-based HIV/AIDS activist. Authorities also have kept Gao's wife, Geng He, under house arrest for 60 days, Hu said.

"The reason they used is that she is also suspected of the same crime, but that's ridiculous," he said. "In my opinion, she is now in a very unstable mental state. Right now, she's totally cut off from the outside world. Whenever there's a knock on the door, she is so nervous that she shakes all over."

Gao, 42, has represented Falun Gong followers, members of underground churches and villagers who said their land had been seized by corrupt officials.

He has been blunt in his criticism of China's leaders, sending open letters to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to protest the government's treatment of religious groups.

In February, he initiated rolling hunger strikes by activists nationwide. Each fasted for 24 to 48 hours. Chinese police responded by rounding up strikers and detaining them.

Other prominent activists who have been placed under house arrest or prosecuted in the last several months include blind attorney Chen Guangcheng, who had defended people forced to undergo abortion or sterilization under China's birth-control rules.

Gao had campaigned for the release of Chen, who in August was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

Gao's troubles have attracted interest worldwide. After Beijing authorities stripped him of his law license in November, more than 100 organizations joined in writing a letter to President Bush, urging him to voice support for Gao during a visit to China that month.

Those charged with inciting subversion can face years in prison and can remain under investigation for months, attorney Mo said.

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