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Obama Plans to Raise Rights Issue with China, Say Officials

President Obama plans to raise human rights issue with his Chinese counterpart President Hu Jintao during his U.S. visit next week, according to senior administration officials.

The Washington Post reported Friday that administration officials close to the planning process of Hu’s visit said Obama will publically and privately call on China to expand civil liberties. Obama also met with five advocates for human rights in China on Thursday, including three born in China, to prepare to discuss the issue with Hu.

It was the first time that Obama met with advocates for rights in China at the White House.

“The meeting was very pluralistic; many different opinions were shared,” an administration official, who requested to remain anonymous, told the Post. “But the consensus was that human rights has to be on the agenda even if it is awkward. And it makes a difference when it is.”

China is currently detaining Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer and democracy advocate, and Gao Zhisheng, a prominent human rights lawyer, in jail.

Earlier this week, The Associated Press released an exclusive interview with Gao that was conducted in April 7, 2010, two weeks before he disappeared again. The AP interview was not released until eight months later to honor Gao’s wishes that “his account not be made public unless he went missing again or made it to ‘someplace safe’ like the United States or Europe,” the news wire service explained.

After consulting with Gao’s family, who are living in the United States, the AP decided to release the interview, which contained details of his torture that was previously unknown to even his wife.

In the interview, conducted at a quiet teahouse in Beijing with guards standing outside, Gao said that police had stripped him and “pummeled him with handguns in holsters” for two days and nights until they were tired.

“The beatings were the worst he said he ever endured and the darkest point of 14 months, ending last March, 2010, during which Gao was secretly held by Chinese authorities,” wrote AP reporter Charles Hutzler, who has known Gao since 2005.

Gao told Hutzler, “That degree of cruelty, there’s no way to recount it.”

“For 48 hours my life hung by a thread.”

Gao was named by the Chinese Justice Ministry in 2001 as one of the country’s ten best lawyers, but became problematic to the government when he started leading the rights movement and defending victims of government persecution in high-profile cases, especially those involving religious freedom for Christians and Falun Gong practitioners. Gao is a member of the house church movement.

In 2007, Gao was also kidnapped and tortured, including, by his account, having security forces give him electric shocks to his genitals and holding burning cigarettes near his eyes so that he suffered temporary blindness.

“We are troubled by the increasingly mafia-like tendencies of the Chinese authorities and the general deterioration in the human rights and rule-of-law situation in China,” said ChinaAid Association President Bob Fu, in a statement Friday. “We call on the Chinese government to immediately give an accounting to the international community of the fate of lawyer Gao and allow him to travel to the United States to be reunited with his wife and family.”

Fu also called on President Obama to press the Chinese government to “end its illegal mistreatment and tormenting” of Gao, blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, and Christian human rights lawyer Fan Yafeng, and immediately return to them their freedom.

Although Obama is expected to raise the issue of human rights during his meetings with Hu next week, the two superpower leaders are expected to focus on dealing with North Korea and Iran, and reviving the global economy more than rights.

Ethan Cole