Human Rignts Lawyers' Database

Gao Zhisheng (高智晟)

Last Updated:


Work Location


Date of Birth


Current Status
Under Arrest


Lawyer Gao was born in Shaanxi and self-educated as a child. After graduating from secondary school, he became a member of the Communist Party of China, joined the People’s Liberation Army and was stationed in the Xinjiang area. From 1991, in response to the Chinese government`s developments of the judiciary system, he began studying Law. He graduated from the People`s University in 1996 and began his legal career. During the 90`s, he practiced in Xinjiang and acted for many administrative litigation cases. In the year 2000, he moved to Beijing and established the Shengzhi Law Firm as the firm`s director and practiced as a litigation lawyer. For many years, Lawyer Gao acted for cases of medical negligence, evictions and the right to religion. He once stated that his focus on these cases is intricately related to his Christian beliefs.

In July 2005, while Lawyer Gao represented the first case of “Chinese House Churches”, he posted his case’s defence on the Internet and was denounced by the Government as an act that did not suit his legal profession and that this involved politics. Gao retorted that the Chinese legal system is unable to protect the rights of its citizens. This dialogue attracted international attention for the first time. In October, Kao wrote to President Hu Jingtao and Premier Wen Jiabao, requesting that the Chinese government respect the freedom of religion and to stop the oppression of the Falungong. On November 4th, the Beijing Justice Bureau revoked Gao’s law license and ordered his firm to stop all practice for a year. In the same year, Lawyer Gao left the Communist Party. Ever since, Lawyer Gao and his family members have been under surveillance, harassment and threats by personnel of the Public Security Bureau. There has even been a suspicious traffic accident that involved Gao. After having stopped his legal practice, Gao Zhisheng announced that he would run for Chairperson of Beijing Lawyers Association. He entered the ranks of fighting for lawyer rights, including a request for lessening the fees lawyers paid to the association

February 4th 2006, Gao Zhisheng began a 48 hour fasting protest in opposition of the violent beating incident that occurred to a Guandong rights activist Guo Feixiong. After he began this campaign, nearly 1000 human rights activists joined in a fasting marathon protest and over 4000 individuals from 16 provinces signed a petition in support of Lawyer Gao. The international community also began a petition against the Government’s oppressive actions. In view of this development, the Chinese government began taking oppressive actions towards the protesters, with over 30 participants of the fasting protest disappearing without cause or imprisoned. This included three of Gao’s assistants. Eventually, on February 24th , Gao was also called for by the Justice Bureau.

Further, on August 15th , Gao Zhisheng was secretly taken away from his sister’s home in Shandong. He was officially arrested on September 21st for the charge of incitement to subvert state power and was refused the right to see his legal representative orhis family. Later, strict control measures were imposed on his family members and they were isolated from external communication. His wife was also beaten. On December 12th, Gao’s case was put to trial at Beijing’s First Intermediate People’s Court but no notice was given to his family. In addition, while stating that Gao refused his right to legal representation, two defence lawyers were appointed to Gao by the court. This trial attracted a lot of international attention. December 14th 2006, the United States’ Department of State issued a declaration expressing that they will investigate the reports of the Court’s refusal of Gao’s family and lawyer’s presence at his trial. On December 22nd, the Court sentenced Gao Zhisheng to three years of imprisonment, five years of suspended sentence and one year of deprivation from political rights.

February 4th 2009, while Layer Gao was still executing his suspended sentences, he was suddenly taken away from his home in Shaanxi by officers of the Public Security Bureau. All contact was lost after this disappearance. February 9th , an internet article written by Gao entitled “Dark Night, Black Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia – My Account of more than 50 days of torture in 2007”. In his own recount, Gao mentions that he was electrocuted, had his genitals pierced by toothpicks and underwent various kinds of torture executed by secret service officers. This incident once again raised international awareness leading to many requests from Hong Kong and international organizations for the release of Gao. Finally, in March 8th 2010 his family and friends were contacted by phone by Lawyer Gao who told them he was released half a year ago and was at Wutai Mounts in Shanxi.

April 7th 2010, Gao was interviewed by the Associated Press in Beijing and he said “I no longer have the strength to persevere. On one hand, I experienced many things in the past and it is exactly because of these experiences that my family has been scarred. After deep thoughts and reflections, I have decided to only hope for peace and quiet.”His friend, Yang Zili, cited this dialogue and pointed out that the first kidnapping was probably to prevent Gao from helping Yang Zili’s appeal. After a while, Lawyer Gao lost contact once again.

December 16th 2011, Xinhua News Agency reported that Gao Zhisheng’s suspended sentence was revoked by the Court and he was to be imprisoned immediately for 3 years. March 24th 2012 Gao`s brother, father-in-law and family members finally reunited with him at the Shayar County Prison in Xinjiang, after two years of disappearance.

Lawyer Gao has received many awards over his career. In 2001, he was chosen as one of top ten most distinguished lawyers in China by the Chinese Justice Bureau. Other international awards include the Courageous Advocacy Award by the American Board of Trial Advocates and the International Human Rights Lawyer Award he received from the American Bar Association in August 2010.


Administrative Litigation, Medical Negligence, Eviction, Cases involving the right to religion


Handled Cases
2006   Su Jia Tun Case
2005   The first “Chinese House Churches”case/ The case of Pastor Cai Zhuohua
2005   The appeal for Yang Zili for the charge of inciting the subversion of State power
2005   The case of Dongzhou village in Shanwei
2005  The case of freelance author Zheng Yichun
2005  The case of coal mines in Tongchuan, Shaanxi
2005   The case of Guo Feixiong
2005   The case of dismissal in Taishi Village of the Panyu district
2005   The case of Zhu Jiuhu
2005    The case of Shaanbei involving rights to oil fields
2004    The administrative litigation of Falungong member Huang Weixing from Shi Jia Zhuang