A U.S. government body that monitors religious freedom urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise human rights issues in China when she visits the country this week as part of her four-nation Asia tour.
In a letter dated Feb. 12, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) asked Clinton to engage in a variety of actions while in China to communicate the importance America places on honoring the rights of thought, conscience and religion.
Clinton has been asked to meet with Chinese human rights lawyers, attend a worship service in an "unregistered" church, urge the Chinese government to account for Tibetan Buddhists who are missing, call for an end to the repression of Chinese Muslims, and press the Chinese government to work with the United States to bring peace to Sudan.
"Given that these individuals are peacefully seeking rights and freedoms guaranteed by Chinese law and international human rights standards, the U.S. should be speaking out forcefully about protecting their freedoms," USCIRF writes.
In particular, the bipartisan religious freedom watchdog group highlighted the case of prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was forcibly taken by authorities on Sept. 21, 2007 and severely tortured for more than 50 days.
Gao, whose whereabouts are unknown, is a former Chinese Communist Party member, Chinese army veteran, and now prominent Christian attorney. He is well-known for defending underground Christians, persecuted Falun Gong, and human rights activists.
In his open letter written about his 2007 prison experience and release on Feb. 9, 2009, Gao revealed shocking details about the kind of torture he received in prison. He said he was 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.
According to Gao, authorities chastised him for writing a letter to congressmen in the United States, calling him a traitor.
"What could you be given by your American lord," Gao recalled them saying. "The American Congress counts for nothing. This is China. It is the Communist Party's territory. To capture your life is as easy as stepping on an ant."
In its letter, the USCIRF urged Clinton to demand that Gao, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, and other human rights defenders currently detained be released immediately.
USCIRF also asked Clinton to specifically raise the issue of religious freedom in Tibet, ending the crackdown on "unregistered" Christian leaders and congregations, and protecting North Korean asylum seekers.
"The U.S. bilateral relationship with China is of course very important. We urge you in your discussions to send the clear message that religious freedom is an essential part of America's strategic foreign policy endeavors," USCIRF wrote.
Clinton will start her maiden voyage as the United States' chief foreign affairs diplomat on Sunday with her first destination being Tokyo. She will also visit South Korea and Indonesia.