A Chinese human rights lawyer who disappeared more than a year ago has been located by the government in the country's far western Xinjiang region. But mystery surrounds the well-being of Gao Zhisheng.
The plight of Gao Zhisheng took a dramatic twist late Sunday when officials from the Chinese Embassy in Washington e-mailed a U.S. pressure group to say the prominent human rights lawyer was living in remote Xinjiang Province.
It was the first news of the activist since he was reportedly taken away by security officials just more than a year ago. Many feared he had died in detention, as the government had repeatedly declined to confirm it was holding him.
The San Francisco-based rights group, the Dui Hua Foundation, was told in the e-mail Gao was working in the city of Urumqi.
Chinese Embassy officials also say he has been in contact with his wife in the United States and relatives in China. But the family denied any such recent contact, says a member of the Gao international legal team, professor Jerome A. Cohen.
He is calling on the Chinese government to end what he describes as a "charade." "This whole thing is an unbelievable way for one of the great governments of the world to behave. Something has happened to this man. People in the Chinese Government know what has happened to this man. Yet we have been treated to a series of ridiculous evasions. The whole thing is like a game, except a life is at stake," he said.
Cohen says pressure will remain on China's government to provide more evidence.
Repeated calls to the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing to clarify and confirm the e-mails went unanswered.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu has continually refused to answer questions on Gao's whereabouts, telling reporters last month he could only guess that Gao was "where he should be."
Gao, a former Communist Party member, has been an outspoken defender of those seeking redress from the government, including coal miners, underground Christians, and the banned Falun Gong sect.
Gao was convicted of subversion in December 2006 and handed a suspended three-year prison sentence and placed under house arrest. He wrote to the U.S. Congress in 2007, claiming he had been tortured.
His wife, Geng He, and their two children made a daring escape from China to Thailand last year and were granted asylum in the United States.