One of the most outspoken dissidents still living in mainland China has vowed to expose “the truth and crimes” of his country’s Communist rulers after publishing a chilling account of years of torture and persecution he claims to have suffered.
Gao Zhisheng – a 52-year-old human rights lawyer who activists say has endured years of horrific abuse at the hands of authorities – has been under virtual house arrest since his release from prison in 2014.
Despite living under almost constant surveillance Gao was able to pen a detailed memoir of his alleged treatment and to have it smuggled out of the country. The book, entitled Stand Up China 2017 – China’s Hope: What I Learned During Five Years as a Political Prisoner, was published this week in Taiwan.
“This book is my way of posing resistance,” Gao told the Associated Press in an interview conducted over a messaging app to avoid surveillance. “I wrote it secretly because I had to hide from the minders who watch me around the clock.”
Gao’s work chronicles years of torture, abuse and imprisonment the attorney claims he suffered at the hands of police and secret agents between 2004 and 2014.
“My experience is just one part of the boundless suffering of the Chinese race under the cruelest regime in human history,” the author writes in the introduction to the book’s unpublished 87,000-word English translation, according to a transcript seen by the Guardian.
The first section of Gao’s memoir focuses on a six-year spate of abductions and torture sessions while its latter half describes the “hellish” period he spent in prison in the remote western region of Xinjiang between 2011 and 2014.
Describing the first time he was snatched, in Shaanxi province in 2004, Gao recalls being picked up and “pounced on” by a group of men outside an airport in the city of Xiangyang.
“I thought I’d encountered a band of highway robbers, never thinking that these outlaws were actually with the government,” he writes, recalling how he was immobilised and suffocated by his captors in the back of a vehicle.
“Realising that discussing the law with them would be like playing piano for a buffalo, I could only proceed forward pressed between them,” Gao adds.
Later in the book the outspoken lawyer describes a 20-day torture session he says took place in 2007 inside a guesthouse that agents had commandeered to use as a “torture chamber”.
“We always hear how strong and stalwart a hero is in the face of torture, how he refused to utter a sound, but in my judgment this is utterly bogus and impossible,” Gao writes of the episode. “I’m sure that my screams were absolutely hair-raising and audible for five or six floors in either direction.
“I myself had never before heard the kind of noises I made, which emerged from me of their own volition and outside of my control,” adds Gao, whose wife and two children fled to exile in the United States in 2009.
A spokeswoman for China’s public security ministry told the Associated Press it had no information about Gao’s treatment while in custody or prison and had not been directly involved with his case.
The publication of Gao’s book comes as a major crackdown on free speech – described by observers as one of the harshest in decades – unfolds in mainland China.
Almost one year after police launched what activists call an unprecedented “war on law” designed to stifle dissent, more than 20 human rights lawyers and their staff remain in custody, the majority facing subversion charges.
Gao, a former member of the People’s Liberation Army, made a name for himself as one of China’s most combative and fearless civil rights lawyers, defending downtrodden Chinese citizens including underground Christians and the victims of land grabs.
“The Communist party has done too many evil and cruel things. So I must fight them,” he told the Guardian in 2006, adding: “I am a warrior who does not care whether I live or die.”
Gao’s unflinching stance – and in particular his defence of members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong – led to the years of persecution described in his memoir.
The book, which took about three months to write and was concluded in March last year, also contains a withering critique of President Xi Jinping’s administration.
Under Xi “we see no sign of any move toward ‘rule of law’”, Gao writes. Instead Xi’s priority has been “to maintain the [Communist party’s] dictatorial status and eliminate rivals”.
Speaking this week, Gao said he was unafraid of the consequences of his writings.
“Once one has chosen to engage in combat, then there is no such thing as giving up,” he said.
By Tom Phillips