Dissident lawyer missing for more than a year says he is now living in northern China

By Gillian Wong, AP
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Missing lawyer says he is living in northern China

BEIJING — A dissident Chinese lawyer who was missing for more than a year suddenly resurfaced Sunday, saying he is now living in northern China and wants only to spend time with his family away from media attention.

Twitter messages appeared Sunday saying Gao Zhisheng’s family had been in touch with him and listed his phone number. It was the first contact that friends, family and reporters have had with Gao since he went missing on Feb. 4, 2009, from his hometown in central China.

Before being jailed and otherwise muzzled four years ago, Gao was the most dauntless of a new group of civil liberties lawyers. He took on sensitive cases involving underground Christians and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group and was also an advocate of constitutional reform.

The United States and the European Union had called on China to investigate his disappearance.

Chinese authorities gave vague explanations about Gao’s whereabouts, heightening worries that he had been jailed or tortured as he was previously.

Contacted briefly on his cell phone, Gao said he is living in Wutai Shan, a mountain range famous as a Buddhist retreat, and that he is “free at present.”

“I just want to be in peace and quiet for a while and be reunited with my family,” Gao said. “Most people belong with family, I have not been with mine for a long time. This is a mistake and I want to correct this mistake.”

Gao declined to answer further questions, saying he was not allowed by law, nor was he willing, to accept media interviews. Bans on interviews are often a condition of parole.

Li Heping, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer and friend of Gao’s, said he had also reached Gao on his cell phone and they had spoken briefly, and that he believed Gao was being followed by authorities.

“I believe he does not have freedom,” Li said. “First, when we were speaking, he sounded like he wanted to hang up. He told me that he had friends around him. I’m sure that the people around him are limiting what he can say.”

“Secondly, he would not tell me exactly where he is when I suggested visiting him,” Li said. “We are very concerned about his situation.”

In a statement made public just before he disappeared last year, Gao described severe beatings from Chinese security forces, electric shocks to his genitals, and cigarettes held to his eyes during a 2007 detention.

Gao was arrested in August 2006, convicted at a one-day trial and placed under house arrest. State media at the time said he was accused of subversion on the basis of nine articles posted on foreign Web sites.

The constant police surveillance wore on his wife and children and they fled China a month before Gao disappeared and were accepted by the United States as refugees.

Since he went missing, the government that so closely monitored him has not said where he was.

A policeman told Gao’s brother that the lawyer “went missing,” and a Foreign Ministry official said earlier this year the self-taught lawyer “is where he should be.” Chinese state-run media have not mentioned the case.

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