China has released a human rights lawyer after three years in prison, but his family and rights advocates worry about his continued safety.
Authorities announced Thursday that they had released Gao Zhisheng from a remote prison in the west of China’s Xinjiang Province.
Gao is one of the Chinese government’s most prominent critics and has been repeatedly jailed over the last several years for a variety of political offenses, including subversion of state power.
Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch said that after his release Gao has not been able to talk freely. “The main concerns are whether or not, or how much freedom he enjoys because his brother has made some oblique references that he can’t talk over the phone and a lot of things are out of their control, so it sounds like they are accompanied by police officers,” she explained.
Gao had been a longtime advocate of religious freedom campaigning on behalf of Falun Gong, Christians and victims of land seizures.
Following previous detentions, Gao has alleged that he was tortured.
He has not yet described his latest time in prison, but Wang said there are signs he is in poor health. “His brother also says Gao lost a couple of teeth. As to why that is could be because in the prison they don’t have much health care, but it could also be that he was beaten or tortured while he was in prison,” she said.
Gao’s wife, Geng He, and his two children escaped China to live in the United States in 2009. Geng spoke yesterday at a news conference in California. She says she hopes Gao can join her in America. Whether authorities will allow Gao to live freely in China or apply for asylum in the United States remains an open question.
“Whether or not they will continue to use unlawful tactics on Gao Zhisheng or whether they use more legal channels to address him, that would be another interesting point to look at,” said Wang.
Gao is currently with his brother in Urumqi at his father in law’s home. His wife said she was only able to speak with him for a few moments over the phone and there was the sound of several people in the room with him.