A Chinese human rights lawyer who fell foul of the authorities for his support of oppressed communities, including Christians, was awarded the Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award on 29 August, the Epoch Times reports.
The whereabouts of the lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, have not been publicly known since August 2017, so the award was presented to his wife, Geng He, in California by David Kilgour, a goodwill ambassador and board member of the First Step Forum, an initiative that monitors religious freedom and human right abuses worldwide.
The Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award is named after Pakistan’s first Christian Cabinet Minister, murdered in 2011 for his criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his defence of Aasiya Noreen, a Christian woman still on death row for blasphemy against Islam. She is widely known as Asia Bibi.
The lawyer received the award for his “dedication to China’s religious freedom and human rights”.
“Lawyer Gao is internationally respected enormously,” Kilgour said at the awards ceremony. “He was first targeted by the party and the state in China in 2005 for standing up for various oppressed communities in China, including Christians, coal miners, and [adherents of] Falun Gong [a Chinese spiritual practice].”
Before his disappearance, Gao was repeatedly arrested and jailed, according to the Epoch Times. It was also reported by human rights groups that he suffered torture by the Chinese security officials.
The previous winner of the award was American missionary Russel Stendal for his decades of work ministering to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, whose 50-year fight against the government had been the world’s longest continuous war when it ended in a peace agreement in August 2016.