One of China's most prominent human rights lawyers, who was released last week after three years in jail, was physically and psychologically abused by prison authorities, a U.S. rights group said late on Wednesday.
The treatment of Gao Zhisheng, whose secretive detention has also drawn criticism from the U.N. human rights body, had been one of the thorniest human rights disputes between China and the United States.
Gao, 50, a Beijing-based lawyer, was held in a small cell with minimal light in the far western region of Xinjiang, according to Freedom Now, a Washington D.C.-based group that advocates for prisoners of conscience, including Gao.
It said Gao was fed a single slice of bread and piece of cabbage once a day and had lost roughly 50 lbs. He lost many teeth from malnutrition.
“I am completely devastated by what the Chinese government has done to my husband,” Freedom Now cited Gao's wife, Geng He, as saying. Geng lives in exile in San Francisco with the couple's children.
An official from the Ministry of Public Security at Shaya county in Xinjiang said she was unclear about Gao's situation. The Xinjiang government office could not be reached for comment. Geng did not answer calls to her phone.
A combative rights advocate who tackled many causes opposed by the ruling Communist Party, Gao was sentenced in 2006 to three years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power,” a charge often used to punish critics of one-party rule.
He was put on probation for five years, formally sparing him from serving the prison sentence, but his family was kept under constant surveillance and he was sporadically taken into custody during that period.
In 2011, state media reported that Gao was back in jail. He has said in interviews that he was tortured at times.
Gao attained international publicity for his campaigning for religious freedom, particularly for members of the banned religious group Falun Gong. He had also defended underground Christians and villagers embroiled in property disputes with government officials.
President Xi Jinping's administration has stepped up a crackdown on dissent, detaining and jailing activists, muzzling Internet critics and strengthening restrictions on journalists in what some rights groups call the worst suppression of free expression in recent years.
Separately, Chinese authorities arrested on Wednesday dissident writer Lu Gengsong, on a charge of “subversion of state power,” his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said.
Police have denied Mo's requests to meet with Lu, saying that Lu's crimes “endangered national security,” Mo said, adding that Lu's arrest could be due to his involvement in the banned China Democracy Party.
If convicted, Lu faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, said U.S.-based rights group, Human Rights in China.