Missing China rights lawyer alive

BEIJING: Gao Zhisheng, the human rights lawyer who has been missing for over a year, appears to be alive and is currently staying at a sacred Buddhist mountain in northern China, his close friends said today.

“I spoke to Gao this afternoon,” Li Heping, a friend and fellow lawyer, told AFP. “He is in Wutaishan (in Shanxi province) but he would not say his exact location. I asked him what his situation was like, how his health was, and he said ‘good’.” Gao is a former Communist Party member who angered authorities by taking on rights cases targeting the government. His fate became a mystery and a topic of global concern after police took him from his home last year.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband even raised Gao’s case in talks earlier this month with Chinese leaders.

Li and prominent lawyer Teng Biao, another friend of Gao’s who also spoke to him today, both said they were sure it was him on the phone. “I’m a good friend of his, and his manner of speaking, the words he uses, I’m very familiar with those,” said Li.

He added Gao told him he had friends with him and had to hang up, which Li said implied he might be closely watched by officials who did not want him to talk. Gao did not tell his friends exactly where he had been for over a year.

Western reporters in Beijing have repeatedly pressed China for information on Gao, but the government has refused the requests. The rights lawyer disappeared in February last year after his wife and two children sneaked out of Beijing to escape to the United States.