BEIJING — Gao Zhisheng, the Chinese rights activist who has been missing for more than a year, has resurfaced near his hometown in northern China.
Ng Han Guan/Associated Press
Gao Zhisheng, a dissident Chinese lawyer, in 2006.
In a brief phone interview on Sunday, Mr. Gao said he was no longer in police custody but that he could not give any details of his predicament. “I’m fine now but I’m not in a position to be interviewed,” he said, speaking from Wutai Mountain, the site of a well-known Buddhist monastery. “I’ve been sentenced but released.”
Since Mr. Gao disappeared into the custody of public security personnel in February of 2009, the Chinese government has provided a series of contradictory and cryptic explanations of his whereabouts despite entreaties by United Nations, the White House and the European Union.
During a previous detention in 2006, Mr. Gao said he was tortured by his captors, who he said repeatedly applied electric shocks to his body and warned him that he would be killed if he revealed details of his treatment.
A lawyer and outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Mr. Gao gained notoriety for his defense of society’s most marginalized citizens — farmers evicted from their land, members of underground Christian churches and practitioners of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual movement.
In addition to his legal work, rights activists say Mr. Gao probably infuriated the authorities by writing protest letters to China’s top leaders about the persecution of Falun Gong adherents and by publicly discussing the torture he says endured.
A month before he disappeared last year, his wife and two young children evaded round-the-clock surveillance of their Beijing apartment and made a dramatic overland escape to Thailand. Granted asylum by the United States, they now live in New York.
In recent months, the Chinese government has offered conflicting accounts of his whereabouts. Last fall, Mr. Gao’s brother said public security officials told him he had “gone missing” during a walk. A foreign ministry spokesman later told reporters he was simply “where he should be” without providing further details.
In February an American human rights group, the Duihua Foundation, said the Chinese Embassy in Washington had insisted Mr. Gao was working in the far western region of Xinjiang and that he had been in contact with his family. His wife, however, she had not heard from him.
During a joint news conference earlier this month in Beijing with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, China’s Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, said Mr. Gao had been sentenced on subversion charges. “There is no such thing as him being tortured,” Mr. Yang said without elaboration.
Reached on his cellphone, Mr. Gao sounded upbeat but guarded, suggesting that he had been instructed not to speak to the media. He said planned to spend time with his extended family in Shanxi Province and that he had no plans to return to his work as a rights defender. “Right now I just need to calm down and lead a quiet life,” he said.
Then he turned melancholy and made an allusion to his wife and children in the United States. “They are like kites that have had their strings cut and now they are floating far off into the sky,” he said before hanging up.
Zhang Jing and Xiyun Yang contributed research.
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