Prominent Chinese dissident Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), a lawyer who first disappeared into police custody nearly two years ago, has been imprisoned in the far western region of Xinjiang, his brother said yesterday.
The US, the EU and the UN have called on Beijing to release Gao, who has defended some of China’s most vulnerable people, including Christians and coal miners.
He was arrested in February 2009 and has been held largely incommunicado by authorities except for a brief release in March 2010.
“I received the decision letter this morning saying Gao Zhisheng is in Shaya prison in Xinjiang,” his brother, Gao Zhiyi (高智義), said.
He added that the document was issued by a Beijing court.
After Gao briefly reappeared more than 20 months ago following his apparent release by police, friends and colleagues he spoke with reported that he continued to be tailed by authorities and was in ill-health.
In April 2010, he disappeared again and has not been heard from since. The charges against him were never made public, but he was arrested in 2006 for “subversion.”
The prison, located in Xin-jiang’s Aksu Prefecture, could not be reached by telephone yesterday. Xinjiang is traditionally regarded as China’s gulag for receiving political prisoners in the 1950s and 1960s.
Xinhua news agency said last month that Gao had been sent back to prison for three years after a court ruled he had “seriously violated probation rules a number of times.”
Bob Fu (傅希秋), head of the Texas-based rights group China Aid, likened the jailing in Xin-jiang to internal exile.
“The Chinese government can use this remote jail to prevent concerned people to visit attorney Gao,” Fu said in a statement.
Speaking from his home in northern Shaanxi Province, Gao Zhiyi said he would attempt to visit his brother later this month.
“I did not know where my brother was for over a year. I always knew that he was not free and he was under control of the government and state security,” he said.
Last month, the US urged China to “immediately release” Gao and to clarify his whereabouts.
“We are especially concerned about Gao’s welfare and whereabouts, including reports that his family has been unable to communicate with him,” a US State Department spokeswoman told reporters.
Meanwhile, the latest report about a confrontation on Wednesday in Xinjiang appeared to contradict versions carried by the state media that suggested the police had killed “violent terrorists” on their way to jihad training.
In the new report, Radio Free Asia said on Friday that four of the people detained after the confrontation in a mountainous area of Xinjiang were children, ages seven to 17, and that they had been part of a group trying to flee the country to escape repression.
A report on Thursday by Xinhua news agency said that police officers had engaged in a shootout with 15 terrorist suspects who had abducted two people, and that seven of the suspects and one police officer had been killed. Xinhua did not specify the ethnicity of the gunmen.