UPDATED at 1:50 p.m. EST on 2015-12-02
Dissident rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who remains under house arrest since his release from prison in August 2014, has 'disappeared' once more, his friends and family told RFA.
Gao, who is still denied any freedom of movement and access to much-needed medical treatment, lost contact with the outside world after he spoke out against the jailing of a fellow rights lawyer in the southern city of Guangzhou, Gao's wife Geng He told RFA.
“I called Gao Zhisheng’s older brother last night but he was mumbling with hesitation and the phone signal was quite weak. He said that Gao Zhisheng was with him but when I requested to talk to Gao Zhisheng, his older brother did not give the phone to him," she said.
"I still need to verify what exactly happened to them. I am worried that they could have been threatened by police who were watching them,” Geng said on Wednesday.
“I was shocked after reading what Gao Zhisheng wrote. I feel that all I can do is to forward Gao’s essay to as many readers as possible, then I can feel a little comfort," added Geng, who fled to the U.S. with the couple's two children after Gao's last 'disappearance' in 2009.
Earlire, Geng told RFa that she hasn't been able to reach Gao since Monday, and that when she calls, "it says there is no such number, or that the number is not in use."
Geng said she has been calling the same number that has been saved in her cell phone all along, rather than dialing it in manually.
She said Gao went incommunicado shortly after he received the news of the six-year jail term handed down to Guangzhou rights activist Guo Feixiong.
"I went online and found a reference to an article [in support of] Guo Feixiong which was said to have been written by Gao Zhisheng, so I wonder if he is incommunicado now because he wrote that article," Geng said.
In a copy of the article seen online by RFA, Gao, 51, hits out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party for jailing Guo, who is also known as Yang Maodong.
"This was within my expectations, but the blatant outrages perpetrated against humanity by the forces of darkness continue to shock me nonetheless," the article said.
"The unwavering peaceful resistance, the strength, of all the Guo Feixiongs is sign of our nation's nobility, and its future potential," it said.
Guo Feixiong was sentenced to six years' imprisonment by a court in Guangzhou on Nov. 27 for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
Fellow activists Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng were also jailed by Guangzhou's Tianhe District People's Court for three and two-and-a-half years, respectively.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said Gao's 'disappearance' can only be the work of the authorities.
"The government is behind the cutting off of Gao Zhisheng's cell phone, because it was fully topped up; there was plenty of money on it," Hu said.
"We frequently run into similar interference with our communications, when our numbers suddenly become 'unavailable'," he said.
"This is the most direct and effective way of interfering with the liberties of their citizens, including their right to communicate with others, and to express their views," Hu said.
"But Gao has been out of jail for more than a year now, and he should be a free man' he has the legal and moral right to say what he likes," he said.
"I think they are terrified that Gao will once more become an influential opinion-maker, like he was back in 2005 and 2006."
A friend of Gao's who declined to be named said Gao is likely still in his former location, but unable to get in touch with the outside world.
"They have probably just sealed him up in that village," the friend said. "He was likely extremely angry when he saw that Guo had been sentenced to six years' imprisonment."
"He is likely getting a bit of pressure from the authorities for writing such a fierce article."
Gao's brother Gao Zhiyi declined to comment, saying it was "inconvenient," a phrase often used by dissidents and their families to indicate that they are under some form of state surveillance.
Last month, Gao, who is now living in a cave home in a remote village in the northern province of Shaanxi, was denied permission by the Chinese police to see a dentist for treatment after losing several teeth to torture and neglect during his incarceration.
In a Nov. 3 letter to Fu, Gao had said he needed urgent dental treatment owing to damage caused by torture in 2009.
He has described being repeatedly tortured when he was secretly jailed at a "military site" during his last disappearance.
Gao has remained defiant, however, hitting out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party's treatment of him in a Nov. 10 letter, which came ahead of an appraisal by the United Nations Committee against Torture of China’s implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment last month.
Once a prominent lawyer lauded by the Communist Party, Gao began to be targeted by the authorities after he defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
In 2006, Beijing authorities arrested Gao and handed him a three-year jail term for "inciting subversion" that was later suspended for five years. But during the following five years, Gao had repeatedly suffered forced disappearances and torture.
He is currently under 24-hour surveillance by state security police after spending a year at the home of his wife's parents in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.