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Eight years ago, China's Ministry of Justice named Gao Zhisheng, a brilliant, mostly self-educated man, one of the country's top ten lawyers. In 2008, Gao received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for his human-rights advocacy work. Then, less than a year later, Gao disappeared when security police spirited him away.

Often called "the conscience of China," the 45-year-old Christian gained worldwide acclaim for his defense of workers, political activists, and religious groups. Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, said Gao had the "audacity" to tell the world how poorly China treats its people. In 2005, Gao criticized China's torture of adherents of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese religion, and his comments triggered a brutal response. For over seven weeks in 2007, police tortured Gao with cigarette burns and electric batons, threatening to kill him.

About 30 days after Gao's disappearance on February 4 of this year, Christians and human-rights groups launched FreeGao.com, demanding his release. By late August, more than 100,000 had signed a petition and 440,000 e-mails had been sent to government officials pleading Gao's case.

In January 2009, China's Communist leaders set up a special committee called 6521, designed to control unrest linked to the commemoration of 60 years of Communist rule (October 1); 50 years since the Tibetan rebellion (March 10); 20 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre (June 4); and 10 years since the official ban on Falun Gong (July 20).

In June, China went further by refusing to renew the licenses of a growing number of lawyers who take on human-rights cases. Bob Fu, founder and president of the U.S.-based China Aid Association, told Christianity Today that as recently as 2002, ...

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October 2009

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