Prominent Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng - believed to be held in custody in China - says the country now faces its “harshest and most brutal political oppression since the end of Mao Zedong’s rule".

In a commentary released earlier this month, the lawyer - best known for his work in defending Christians, Falun Gong followers and other vulnerable groups - claims that the deterioration of human rights experienced by Christians and others "surpassed even the darkest political rule ever experienced by humanity [during] the ‘June 4th Tian'anmen Square Massacre’ [in 1989 that killed at least hundreds of pro-democracy protesters]" and the "suppression" of Falun Gong, a group combining exercises with moral and spiritual teachings.

The document, prepared in 2016, is believed to be the first comprehensive human rights commentary written by a human rights lawyer still living in China. "In comparison to 2015, in 2016 the [Communist Party of China] CPC conspicuously intensified its control and suppression of religious faith, especially targeting Christianity and Falun Gong," he writes. "The external environment for religious faith hit a new low in 2016 after 30 years of suppression."

The English version of the Commentary on Human Rights in China was jointly made available by advocacy groups ChinaAid, Human Rights Foundation and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Mr Gao disappeared in August this year and is believed to be in custody in Beijing, though Chinese authorities have refused to confirm his whereabouts. After he defended Christians, Falun Gong followers, and other vulnerable groups in open letters to Chinese leaders and courts, authorities closed down his law firm and revoked his lawyer’s license.

In December, 2006, he had received a three-year prison sentence and one year’s deprivation of political rights with a probation period of five years on charges of "incitement to subvert state power". Later, in December 2011, officials reportedly said that Mr Gao had violated the terms of his probation and that he returned to jail for three years. Authorities released him on 7th August, 2014, while he suffered "serious health problems," but he disappeared again in August 2017, according to friends.

Mr Gao makes clear in the commentary that his troubles are part of a deadly, government crackdown on Christians and others perceived as questioning China's official Communist ideology. "Intimidated by the fact that Christianity is a faith practiced around the globe, and Christians pursue goodness and kindness, CPC has been cracking down on it harshly and ruthlessly for a long time, while keeping the suppression implicit and focused on typical cases," he writes.

Drawing attention to specific incidents of persecution involving Christians and Falun Gong followers in China in recent years, he says Western politicians appear to be downplaying China's human rights situation as they seem more interested in cooperation with what is the world's second-largest economy of 1.3 billion people.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive, said the organisation shared many of the concerns raised in the report. "We join Gao in calling on the international community to press China to end policies and practices which perpetuate human rights abuses, and we further call on the Chinese authorities to release lawyer Gao Zhisheng immediately and without condition.”

- with BosNewsLife