- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2010

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING | Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer who has been missing for more than a year, is alive and staying on a sacred Buddhist mountain in northern China, his close friends said Sunday.

“I spoke to Gao this afternoon,” Li Heping, a friend and fellow lawyer, told Agence France-Presse. “He is in Wutaishan [in Shanxi province] but he would not say his exact location. I asked him what his situation was like, how his health was, and he said ‘good.’ ”

Mr. Gao is a former Communist Party member who angered authorities by taking on rights cases targeting the government. His fate became a mystery and a topic of global concern after police took him from his home last year. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband even raised Mr. Gao’s case in talks earlier this month with Chinese leaders.

Mr. Li and prominent lawyer Teng Biao, another friend of Gao’s who also spoke to him Sunday, both said they were sure it was him on the phone.

“I’m a good friend of his, and his manner of speaking, the words he uses, I’m very familiar with those,” Mr. Li said.

He added that Mr. Gao told him he had friends with him and had to hang up, which Mr. Li said implied he might be closely watched by officials who did not want him to talk. Mr. Gao did not tell his friends where he had been for the past year.

“We think there are people next to him, or that he has received a very big warning, that he’s scared,” Mr. Teng said.

Western reporters in Beijing have repeatedly pressed China for information about Mr. Gao, but the government has refused the requests. The rights lawyer disappeared in February last year after his wife and two children sneaked out of Beijing to escape to the United States.

He has been an outspoken defender of people seeking redress from the government including coal miners, underground Christians and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. His biggest problems came after 2005 when he renounced his membership of the Communist Party and publicly called for an end to the crackdown on Falun Gong.

In December 2006, Mr. Gao was convicted of subversion and given a suspended sentence of three years in prison, immediately placed under house arrest and put on probation for five years.

After he wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress in 2007, Mr. Gao said he was subjected to several weeks of torture including electric shocks to his genitals and having his eyes burned by cigarettes.

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