When Beijing Intermediate Court No. 1 convicted Chinese human-rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng of "inciting subversion," but then suspended the three-year prison sentence for five years and sent him home in December 2006, some saw this as a sign of the Chinese government's greater leniency toward dissidents. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as Mr. Gao's most recent "disappearance" sadly illustrates.
Although the government had long resented Mr. Gao's bold legal championing of human-rights victims of all kinds, his ultimate "crime" in the eyes of the state had been to break the public silence about persecution and torture of Falun Gong practitioners and Christians. His release in 2006 was actually a transfer to a new type of "prison en famille." It was a sentence of collective punishment for him, his wife and their two children. The terms of his suspended sentence deprived Mr. Gao of his political rights, including the right to publish. Yet nothing had been stated about 24-hour police surveillance of the entire family, frequent confinement to their apartment in a building from which other tenants had been removed, or repeated abductions and beatings of both Mr. Gao and the family. They lived in constant terror.