BEIJING, March 10 (AFP) - A global team of prominent lawyers has petitioned the United Nations to condemn the detention of high-profile Chinese legal activist Gao Zhisheng as a violation of international law.
The petition, filed to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday and seen by AFP, said Gao's detention also violated China's own laws.
Gao, a former Communist Party member, was an outspoken rights defender in cases against the Chinese government involving alleged police corruption, land seizures and religious freedom.
He was taken away by security personnel on February 4, 2009 and has not been heard from since, the petition said.
"There is reason to believe that his health and safety are in serious jeopardy while he remains in Chinese custody and barred from communication with the outside world," it added.
The government has failed to officially arrest and charge Gao with a crime and has not notified his family where he is being held -- all violations of Chinese law, the petition said.
Signatories include Jerome Cohen, a leading expert on Chinese law at New York University; Irwin Cotler, member of Canada's Parliament and former minister of justice; and Albert Ho, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party and a member of the territory's legislature.
Western reporters in Beijing have repeatedly pressed China's foreign and public security ministries for information on Gao, but both have declined to provide specifics on his whereabouts.
Following years of legal activism, Gao was convicted of subversion in 2006, but given a suspended sentence.
In 2007, Chinese authorities detained and severely tortured him, threatening to kill him if he disclosed the details of his torture, which he did in 2009, the Washington-based rights group Freedom Now said in a statement.
The members of Gao's legal team are affiliated with the rights group.
"I hope that the United Nations will ask the Chinese government to follow its own law and to release him," Freedom Now quoted Gao's wife Geng He as saying.
Geng fled China for the United States early last year.