The wife of Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer who revealed details of the torture he endured in detention in China, says she has not heard from her husband since he went missing again last April and fears for his life.
Geng He traveled from her home in the San Francisco Bay area to Washington this week to add her voice to a growing chorus that wants President Obama to press the issue of human rights when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House.
"I hope that Mr. Obama can help my son and daughter get their father back," Mrs. Geng said through a translator in a phone interview with The Washington Times on Tuesday.
Mrs. Geng last spoke with her husband when he was briefly released from detention in April. She had seen him in an Associated Press video and remarked at the poor shape of his teeth.
"I told him to go see a dentist because his teeth looked really horrible," Mrs. Geng said. She gave him the number of a dentist, but when she asked in a later phone conversation if he had been, he replied that he would if he could.
"I understood then that he has no freedom. He couldn't even go see a dentist," Mrs. Geng said.
Mr. Gao was detained in February 2009. He had taken on controversial cases, including defending coal miners and Christians.
He re-emerged at his Beijing apartment in April. In an interview with the AP at the time, he said police had stripped him naked and pummeled him with handguns in holsters.
For two days and nights, they took turns beating him and did things he refused to describe. When all three officers tired, they bound his arms and legs with plastic bags and threw him to the floor until they caught their breath to resume the abuse, according to the AP account.
"That degree of cruelty, there's no way to recount it," Mr. Gao said in the interview. "For 48 hours my life hung by a thread."
In their phone conversations in April, Mr. Gao never told his wife about the way he was treated in detention, she said.
"He never told me anything because he was afraid that I would worry," Mrs. Geng said.
Mr. Gao had asked the AP not to publicize his account unless he went missing again or made it to "someplace safe." Two weeks later he had vanished without a trace.
The AP published his story this month.
Maran Turner, executive director at Freedom Now, said unlike in the past when Mr. Gao had some contact with his family while in detention, there has been "zero contact" since April.
"Based on the treatment he suffered in the past, one can only assume what he is being put through now is every bit as grave and severe as it was before, if not more so," Ms. Turner said.
Mr. Gao's family has been told by Chinese authorities not to inquire about his whereabouts and have been threatened with dire consequences if they do.
But Mrs. Geng said she is determined to secure her husband's freedom. She is driven by the fear that he may face the same fate as jailed writer Li Hong, who died last month after being held in custody.
Mrs. Geng said she was unaware of her husband's work, but says she supports him 100 percent.
"I think that he is doing the right thing and making a lot of people aware of what is happening in China," she said.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, says Mr. Gao's disappearance is part of a growing list of "enforced disappearances."
"We consider enforced disappearances to be among the most serious kinds of abuses we document partly because ... the state that is supposed to be protecting you is in fact disappearing you," Ms. Richardson said.
"Disappearances are notorious for paving the way for other abuses, such as torture and death in custody," she added.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration will continue to urge Chinese leaders to vigorously protect human rights.
"Why Gao has received such bizarre treatment we are not quite sure," Ms. Turner said of the cycle of disappearance and appearance of Mr. Gao. "He is just a human rights lawyer, he is not a dissident."
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