The brother and father-in-law of Gao Zhisheng, one of China's highest-profile dissidents, have met him in jail in a remote Chinese region for the first time in two years, allaying concerns that he may have died.
Gao's wife, Geng He, said he received a visit from her father, Geng Yundi, and Gao's eldest brother, Gao Zhiyi, at the Shaya county prison in China's northwestern Xinjiang region on March 24.
“The meeting lasted half an hour. They spoke on the telephone through a glass window," Geng He, who is living in exile in the United States, told RFA's Mandarin service.
"He looked pale, probably because he had not been in the sun. He did not look bad; nor did he look well. Judging from the way he walked, he was okay. He did not seem to have lost or gained weight."
The prison meeting offered a ray of hope to Gao's family members as they were concerned about his safety after he had disappeared for lengthy periods and re-emerged to say he had been tortured.
Gao Zhiyi confirmed with RFA about his meeting with his brother but declined to provide details.
"I saw him. I saw him," he said. "I will talk to you more in a few days. It is not convenient to talk now."
Before the latest jail visit, Gao Zhiyi last saw his brother in April 2010 in the custody of public security officers.
When he traveled to the Shaya county jail after being informed in December 2011 that Gao was being held there, prison authorities told him that Gao was not allowed visitors and did not want to see his family.
Following the failed meeting, Geng He had expressed concern over her husband's life.
While she is glad that her father and brother-in-law managed to meet Gao three days ago, Geng He remains worried.
“My heart is heavy. Even though Gao Zhisheng has been visited by family, my heart is still heavy. I have many questions. Why was he sent to Xinjiang? What did he do? When will he be let go? So many questions are unanswered.”
She called for his immediate release.
"Gao Zhisheng did not do anything wrong. He should be freed immediately."
Once a prominent lawyer lauded by China's ruling Communist Party, Gao fell afoul of the government 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, authorities arrested Gao and handed him a sentence for “inciting subversion” that was later suspended. But over the next five years, Gao repeatedly suffered forced disappearances and torture, Geng said.
In December, China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a terse announcement that Gao had been imprisoned for three years for repeatedly violating his terms of probation.
Geng He said her father managed to speak to Gao for about 10 minutes.
"He asked how my dad was, and how my elder and younger sisters were. He asked about my dad’s health," Geng He said.
"My dad said, ‘I am fine now that I’ve seen you.’ Gao Zhisheng wept upon hearing it. My dad asked if he needed money. Gao Zhisheng said yes but that they only allowed 600 yuan (U.S. $95) per month.
"So my dad left 600 yuan for him. Then Gao Zhisheng’s eldest brother spoke to him for 20 minutes. My dad was not able to say what they talked about. [Gao Zhisheng’s] eldest brother was weeping ... The police were present. But I don’t know how many ...."
Geng He said Gao Zhiyi told her that her husband "looked okay" but that the authorities had warned him not to say anything about the visit, otherwise he would not be allowed to visit him again.
Reported by Zhang Min for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.