Chinese rights lawyer feared dead allowed visit from family


CHINA’S BEST-known human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, who has sought constitutional reform and acted for the banned Falun Gong sect, was allowed a visit from his family last weekend, the first time he has been seen for nearly two years.

Mr Gao had reportedly been tortured during a series of detentions since 2006, and he had been feared dead.

Mr Gao’s wife, Geng He, who fled to California with the couple’s children, told Reuters Mr Gao had met his elder brother and her father last Saturday at the Shaya County prison in the western region of Xinjiang.

The elder Gao brother told Ms Geng that her husband appeared to be paler than usual, but was in good physical condition.

The visit was closely supervised and lasted about half an hour. He was given no chance to talk about where he had been for the last two years or talk about his treatment while in detention.

“I said: ‘Brother, why didn’t you ask him . . . where was he staying? Where was he all the years before?” Ms Geng said. “[His] elder brother said: ‘My main purpose of the trip is to determine whether he’s alive or dead. The police will not allow you to ask so many things’.”

Mr Gao’s detention has been a stumbling block in closer negotiations between China and the West, and the secretive way he has been detained drew censure from the United Nations’ working group on arbitrary detention.

The group said holding Mr Gao was in breach of international law because Beijing had failed to meet minimum international standards for due process.

Senior officials in the Obama administration have repeatedly urged Beijing to reveal his whereabouts and let him go.

In December, the government said it was moving Mr Gao to prison, the first time it had formally acknowledged detaining him. However, his brother was then denied the right to visit him and fears he was dead resurfaced.

News that he was alive came as another dissident, Xue Mingkai, who served 18 months in jail for joining a banned political party, has been convicted again of subversion and sentenced to four years in jail.

The China Human Rights Defenders group said details of the case of Mr Xue were unclear but that he was formally jailed on March 12th in Shandong province, although he had already been in police custody for more than a year. – (Additional reporting by Reuters)