Written answers

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Department of Foreign Affairs

Human Rights Issues

11:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Question 124: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the disappearance of Chinese human rights lawyer (details supplied); his views regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13254/10]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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As stated in the House on 9 February and on 11 March last, in reply to Parliamentary Questions relating to the same case, I have been deeply concerned about the disappearance of Mr. Gao Zhisheng, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer.

I am therefore heartened by press reports yesterday which suggest that Mr. Gao Zhisheng appears to be alive and that he has been in contact with associates. These reports suggest that fellow lawyers spoke to him on Sunday; that he is in good health and that he is currently located at a Buddhist mountain retreat in Wutaishan in Shanxi Province. I am currently seeking verification of these reports and I hope that it will be possible to ascertain more about Mr Gao's circumstances.

Mr. Gao had been missing for over a year from his home in Shanxi province. On the two occasions on which he had been sighted since that time, the last of which was June 2009, he was accompanied by police officers. From June of last year until now, neither family members nor his professional colleagues were able to make contact with him.

Human rights issues in China, including individual cases, are regularly discussed on a bilateral basis with the Chinese Government, both in Beijing and in Dublin. The Government continues to stress at such meetings the great importance attached by Ireland to human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and to urge the Chinese authorities to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A broad-ranging EU-China human rights dialogue enables the EU to engage with China on such issues as freedom of expression, the death penalty, the independence of the judiciary, prison conditions, and freedom of religion and minority rights. It also provides an opportunity for the EU to raise individual cases, such as that of Mr. Gao Zhisheng.

In the period since the disappearance of Mr. Gao Zhisheng, the EU repeatedly called on the Chinese authorities to reveal his whereabouts. His case was raised during the last two meetings of the EU-China Human Rights dialogue, held in Prague on 14 May 2009 and in Beijing on 20 November 2009 respectively. We called on the Chinese authorities to give Mr. Gao access to legal advice and to allow him to maintain contact with his family. We urged them to clarify without delay his present situation and to open a fully independent and transparent investigation into his disappearance.

Since I last referred to this case in the House on 11 March, the Chinese Foreign Minister Mr. Yang Jiechi commented at a press conference on 16 March that Mr. Gao had been sentenced on a charge of subverting state power. It is unclear whether this is a new charge brought against Mr. Gao or whether it relates to a previous sentence imposed in 2006.

On my instructions, my Department is planning to raise the case of Mr Gao Zhisheng and the situation regarding human rights defenders in China more generally, at forthcoming consultations with the Chinese Government.

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