Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), a prominent human rights lawyer whose 13-month disappearance at the hands of Chinese security agents stirred an international outcry until he resurfaced in March, has again vanished, his friends said on Friday.
Associates said Gao failed to return to a Beijing apartment on April 20 after spending more than a week in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, where he had been visiting his father-in-law.
Gao telephoned his father-in-law as his plane left Urumqi, saying he would call upon his arrival in Beijing, they said.
That appeared to be his last contact with the outside world. Li Heping (李和平), another Beijing human rights lawyer and a close friend, said he had visited Gao’s apartment repeatedly, but had not found him.
“No one had been there for a while,” said Li, who last went to the apartment on Thursday. “I have no idea who to call, or who has taken him.”
Others said they were sure that the government had again removed him from public view and that the authorities’ earlier decision to allow him to resurface briefly had been a ploy to try to demonstrate to the outside world that he had not been mistreated.
“Now we understand that the freedom was arranged by the authorities just for a show,” Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), a Beijing lawyer and rights activist, said by telephone. “He is missing again; he is still under their control. We must continue to pay attention to his case.”
An official of Amnesty International said on Friday that the organization was “seriously concerned” for Gao’s safety.
“It’s a matter of serious concern when he loses contact with his family and friends,” Catherine Baber, the organization’s deputy director for Asia and Pacific programs, said in a telephone interview from London.
Gao, whose outspoken approach has made him a contentious figure, is one of the country’s best-known activists. He has also been a ceaseless gadfly to Chinese authorities.
In the early 2000s he earned international attention, and the government’s enmity, for his legal work on behalf of marginalized citizens, including members of underground Christian churches and practitioners of Falun Gong, the spiritual movement that Chinese authorities say is an antigovernment cabal.
After Gao sent letters to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), accusing the government of persecuting Falun Gong members, he was stripped of his law license and sentenced to prison in late 2006 on charges of inciting subversion.
After being released, Gao said he had been tortured, adding that he had also been warned that discussing his torture publicly would result in his death.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) denied those claims at a news conference in March.
“There is no such thing as him being tortured,” he said.
Gao and his family were under constant surveillance and harassment after his release. Early last year his wife and two children escaped from eventually gaining asylum in the US.
Gao disappeared shortly afterward. Despite pleas from the US, the EU and the UN, he was not seen again until he appeared in March at a Buddhist monastery in northern China.
In a telephone interview then with the New York Times, he said he had given up his work as a human rights defender and merely sought “to calm down and lead a quiet life.”
He refused to say whether he had suffered mistreatment while in captivity. In an April 7 interview with The Associated Press, he said simply: “I don’t have the capacity to persevere.”