Chinese authorities reportedly tortured top human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, a U.S.-based rights group said Thursday.
ChinaAid Association said it received a report from sources inside China informing the group that Gao has been severely beaten by authorities and his living condition is "worse than death." Gao is crying daily from pain and desperation, the group noted.
It was the first time ChinaAid was able to confirm physical abuse since Gao, a Christian who often defends house churches, disappeared in February.
After his disappearance, his wife and two children escaped to the United States earlier this year. They were suffering from threats and mental anguish due to persecution from authorities.
Rights groups and U.S. congressmen have advocated on behalf of Gao, but China has refused to release information about the whereabouts of the rights lawyer and his condition.
Gao's abduction in February led his wife to release a letter written by him that details the torture he endured in 2007 when he was similarly kidnapped and imprisoned by government officials.
In the letter, Gao recalls horrific torture practices he experienced including being forced to lie naked on the floor for 13 days and nights while his whole body was tortured with electric shock batons and toothpicks were used to pierce his sexual organs.
"The electric shock baton was put all over me. And my full body, my heart, lungs and muscles began jumping under my skin uncontrollably. I was writhing on the ground in pain, trying to crawl away. Wang (one of the interrogators) then shocked me in my genitals," Gao wrote.
Interrogators also reportedly used cigarettes to fill his nose and eyes with smoke for extended periods of time.
The torture experience occurred after Gao wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress asserting widespread human rights abuses in China, including the persecution of house church Christians.
ChinaAid, which has been actively advocating for Gao's release since he was kidnapped, calls on citizens to contact their representative in Congress on behalf of Gao. According to the rights group, several congressmen said there has been a proposal for a congressional resolution on Gao's behalf after they were contacted by constituents.
So far 5,284 people have contacted their local U.S. representative on behalf of Gao, according to ChinaAid.
"Continue to add your voice! We have to keep the momentum going on behalf of this innocent man who himself was a defender of the persecuted," wrote ChinaAid in its newsletter.
The news confirming the fear that Gao was being tortured comes just a week after an official newspaper of the Chinese government published an article calling for reform of the country's religious policies. The China Daily posted an article on its website in which Chinese religious scholar Liu Peng said it is time for the government to develop a new system where more religious affairs can be governed by law, rather than through administrative officials.
Liu said the current system is confusing because administrative officials do not have adequate laws to deal with both the legal registered religious groups and the growing number of illegal religious groups in the country.
In the interview, the religious scholar also dismissed the idea that house churches are "evil" designs of Western powers. He instead described house churches as a religious sect that can exist alongside government-sanctioned "three-self churches."
Also, house churches, Liu pointed out, meet the needs of Christians living in rural areas where there are not enough government-recognized churches.
After discussing China's Christian landscape, Liu argued that the country needs a legal system that would allow all religious bodies to compete freely and the government would only intervene if a group breaks the law. He called for a comprehensive law on religion.
The Chinese religious scholar said he is optimistic about the government response to his suggestions.
"At least no one asks me to shut up," Liu said, according to China Daily. "They must know I'm just trying to help the government identify and solve its problems."
There are at least 50 million house church Christians in China, with some estimates saying the number is as high as 100 million.
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