BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese embassy in Washington has said the country’s best known activist lawyer, missing for a year after being taken from his home, is working in the western city of Urumqi, a U.S.-based rights group said late on Saturday.
Gao, a Christian lawyer who helped defend members of China’s banned Falun Gong spiritual group, was abducted from his relative’s home in Shanxi province on Feb 4, 2009. Chinese authorities have not provided consistent information on his fate.
“On Feb 12, the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC informed John Kamm, executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation, that Mr. Gao Zhisheng is working in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and that he has been in contact with his wife and relatives in China,” said the foundation, which campaigns for the rights of prisoners.
At the time of Gao’s disappearance, his wife and children had already escaped from their home, ultimately arriving in Bangkok where they applied for asylum to the United States.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu in January told reporters Gao was “where he is supposed to be,” but the following week said he did not know Gao’s whereabouts.
Gao’s family had feared he was dead, after a cryptic comment from police that he had “lost his way and gone missing” in September.
“This really is a case that calls for ‘habeas corpus’,” said Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese legal issues who is active in pressing Gao’s case.
Gao was sentenced to four years in jail for subversion in 2006 but won a good behavior reprieve. He has, however, since been under constant police watch and periods of secretive detention, his wife, Geng He, told Reuters after her escape.
Dui Hua said it was trying confirm the information on Gao’s whereabouts, adding that Gao’s wife had had no contact from him.
Gao had previously published instances when he was tortured while in detention. Self-educated, he had grown disenchanted with the Chinese system while representing other activist lawyers, Falun Gong practitioners and underground Christians.
In 2005, he wrote an open letter to China’s president and premier, calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong, which China regards as a dangerous cult.
Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Ron Popeski