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China rights attorney starved in prison, wife says

August 16, 2014

BEIJING (AP) — The wife of Chinese human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng said Saturday that her husband was kept in isolation for 2 1/2 years and starved before his release from prison a week ago.

Geng He said by telephone from San Francisco that Gao lost about 50 pounds (23 kilograms) while in prison and now can barely eat or talk. In 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and released several times only to be taken away again without explanation by security agents.

His wife said he can only eat soft baby food because he has lost several teeth and others are loose.

She added that he could hardly speak when he communicated by telephone from her sister’s house in the city of Urumqi in far western Xinjiang province. State security agents were watching him inside the sister’s house, she said.

“He didn’t respond and then the connection went dead,” Geng said. “My sister told me he’s been in a dark room for so long eating just a few vegetables and buns. You have to be patient when you talk to him.”

The 50-year-old attorney won international renown for his courage defending members of the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong and fighting for the land rights of farmers.

After he was detained, he upset authorities by publicly denouncing the torture he said he had suffered.

Geng and Gao’s attorney Jarod Genser are asking that he be allowed to leave China and join his wife and two children in California. His family fled China in 2009 and won political asylum in the United States.

“He’s been in a small cell that’s dimly lit with no natural light,” Genser said. “The guards had strict instructions to not talk to him. . He had no reading materials, nothing in his cell other than his bed and the toilet, a hole in the ground. Under those circumstances, I think any person would be traumatically affected.”

Genser said he was told Gao had been tortured but didn’t have any details about his treatment.

The first thing Gao needs, his wife said, is to fix his teeth so he can eat and regain weight. She said he has so far put on just a few pounds (kilograms) since his Aug. 7 release.

“I’m thankful for everyone who’s showed concern for Gao and for human rights in China,” Geng said. “I really hope he can come and live in freedom.”

Update hourly