BEIJING (Reuters) - The brother of missing Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has issued a plea for news about his whereabouts, and believes that he remains in extra-judicial detention despite recently ending a five-year probationary period.
Gao is among China’s most prominent dissidents and his case may be among the human rights issues raised by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who arrives in China on Wednesday.
A combative rights advocate who tackled many causes anathema to the ruling Communist Party, Gao was sentenced to three years’ jail in 2006 for “inciting subversion of state power,” a charge often used to punish critics of one-party rule.
Gao was given five years’ probation, formally sparing him from serving the prison sentence. But his family was under constant surveillance, and Gao was detained on and off.
He was taken from his relative’s home in Shaanxi province in north China in February 2009 — his family claims by security officers — and has been missing since early last year, when he resurfaced briefly and made sporadic contact with friends and foreign reporters in April 2010.
Gao’s older brother, Gao Zhiyi, told Reuters on Tuesday that he has issued missing person notices pleading for information about his brother, photos of which have circulated on the Internet with the help of sympathizers.
Gao Zhisheng’s family estimated that his probation period ended on Sunday, meaning that authorities have no reason to keep him in custody, if that is where he is, said Gao Zhiyi. He said he was sure government authorities were holding his brother.
“We had to do that because we’ve had absolutely no information about him for more than a year,” Gao Zhiyi said by telephone from his home in Shaanxi.
“I don’t know where he is, but I’m a hundred percent sure that they’re keeping him locked away,” he said of the Chinese authorities.
Police officers have told Gao Zhisheng’s family that he is missing or they ignore pleas for information, said Gao Zhiyi. “I’ve tried calling many times, but get nothing,” he added.
Gao Zhisheng’s wife and children have fled to the United States, and members of Congress have pressed his case. A U.S. official said Biden would not flinch from raising human rights issues during his visit, but did not mention specific cases.
The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention said in March that Gao is being detained in violation of international law, and that the Chinese government should “provide for reparation of the harm caused” to Gao, who had claimed he was tortured in detention.
In response, China’s foreign ministry urged the United Nations to respect its judicial sovereignty, adding that it is a country ruled by law and was unaware of Gao’s whereabouts.
From February, China mounted a crackdown on potential political challengers to the ruling Communist Party, fearing that anti-authoritarian uprisings in Arab countries could inspire protests against one-party rule.
Many rights lawyers were detained, and most of those who have been released have refrained from speaking out or renewing high-profile advocacy, fearing fresh bouts of detention.
“I’m an ordinary citizen, and there’s nothing I can do,” Gao’s brother Gao Zhiyi wrote in the missing person appeal. “If anyone knows something, please tell his family, and we will certainly show our gratitude,” he wrote.
Editing by Ken Wills and Miral Fahmy