UN Panel Calls for Release of Chinese Rights Lawyer

A United Nations panel is calling for the immediate release of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, saying his detention without charges violates several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The finding by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was dated November 2010 but made public only Monday by the human rights group Freedom Now. The working group was established by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The panel says in its ruling that the Chinese government failed to answer its questions or refute a complaint that Gao has been detained without charges almost continuously since 2009. His family says it has not heard from him since he was released for two weeks in April last year.

The panel also called on China to provide reparation of the harm caused to Gao, who has defended members of minority religious groups, including the outlawed Falun Gong movement.

Gao's wife, Geng He, says she is "excited" to learn of the U.N. group's finding in a commentary published Sunday in The New York Times. In the commentary, she urges U.S. President Barack Obama to pressure China to release her husband, or at least to let him contact his family.

The working group says Gao's detention violates international law because he is being punished "for exercising his fundamental human rights and because the government failed to meet even the minimum international standards for due process."

The panel is made up of independent experts in human rights and international law from Senegal, Pakistan, Chile, Norway and Ukraine.

The group was acting on a petition from Freedom Now, which lists as its honorary chairmen former Czech President Vaclav Havel and South African cleric Desmond Tutu.