By Shaun Tandon
Gao Zhisheng, pictured in 2005
WASHINGTON — The wife of one of China's best-known rights advocates says she is unable to sleep fearing for his safety one year after he vanished, as US lawmakers nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer, took on some of China's most controversial causes by defending coal miners, underground Christians, the banned Falungong spiritual movement and ordinary people seeking redress from the government.
Human rights groups say that security personnel snatched him from his home village on February 4 last year and that he has not been heard from since.
His wife, Geng He, and their two children staged a daring escape out of China last year to Thailand, from where they were granted asylum in the United States.
Geng said she was haunted by memories of what happened to Gao in the past. In a previous 50-day detention after he wrote a letter to the US Congress, Gao said that guards inflicted him with electric shock, burned his eyes with cigarettes and stuck toothpicks in his genitals.
"Since 2005 my husband was kidnapped six or seven times and every time he would tell me of the torture that he experienced," Geng told AFP.
"These past few weeks, I can't sleep until 3 am every night. My heart aches because I recall every single detail," she said.
"Really, sometimes I feel that it might be better if he were dead than alive. But I am hoping and I am ready to trade my own life for his so that the family can go on," she said.
She voiced hope that appeals from the United States and other foreign nations would help her husband.
"Unless there is international pressure, I fear that in the future there may be no more lawyers in China who will take up these cases," she said.
In Beijing earlier Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu refused to answer questions by foreign reporters on Gao's whereabouts. Last week Ma said, "I guess that he should be where he should be."
Seven US lawmakers marked the anniversary by nominating Gao and two other imprisoned Chinese rights activists -- Chen Guangcheng and Liu Xiaobo -- for the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Though Chen, Gao and Liu are three of the most outstanding Chinese human rights defenders," they wrote, "few governments or inter-governmental organizations have the courage to brave the Chinese government's displeasure and honor them."
"Throughout its history, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has often distinguished itself by its willingness to award prizes despite the strong opposition of governments," said the lawmakers, led by Representative Christopher Smith, a Republican of New Jersey.
"We can think of no one so deserving of recognition," they wrote, "and no one whose recognition would be more timely or do more to foster peace in the 21st century."
According to the Nobel committee, members of national assemblies are among those with the right to nominate candidates for the prize.
Liu, a writer, was jailed in December for 11 years for subversion after co-writing Charter 08, a widely circulated petition that called for political reform and was signed by more than 10,000 people.
Chen, a blind, self-trained lawyer who alleged abuses under China's one-child policy, was given a sentence of four years and three months in 2006.
The Nobel committee last year gave the prize to President Barack Obama for his contributions to world understanding, a controversial choice with the US leader himself saying he did not feel he had yet earned the award.
China has been increasingly defiant in the face of international pressure on its human rights record. It released no dissidents before Obama's visit to Beijing in November, moving away from a tradition of goodwill gestures for visits by US leaders.