Top Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng remains effectively under house arrest, 10 months after his release from prison on subversion charges, his family said on Wednesday.
Gao, 52, is currently under 24-hour surveillance by state security police at the home of his wife's parents in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where he was released from a three-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power" in August.
While he is allowed to maintain phone contact with his family in Shaanxi province, Gao remains in Xinjiang, his brother Gao Zhiyu told RFA on Thursday.
“I talked to him recently and he is better now—[his physical condition] has been good for the past several weeks,” Gao Zhiyu said.
“He can walk around the outside of the house, but he is not free [to go anywhere else].”
Asked if he had plans to visit his brother, who he has not seen since his release, Gao Zhiyu said that authorities would not give him permission, “but we'll have to see what happens.”
According to Gao’s friends, such as Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, the rights lawyer had barely been able to speak an entire sentence when he was first released from Xinjiang's Shaya Prison, where he had been held for lengthy periods in solitary confinement and tortured.
Gao suffered psychological torture and various forms of corporal punishment, severely affecting his memory, and leaving his teeth in such bad shape that he was unable to chew, they said.
Gao Zhiyu said his brother was mostly reading at home these days, while he remained under surveillance by authorities. He said he was unsure how many people were monitoring Gao at any given time.
In January, Hu Jia told RFA that authorities were also monitoring Gao’s phone calls, saying he was only permitted to have “brief, stilted conversations which can never touch on any deeper topics.”
He said at the time that Gao’s family was “under the same huge political pressure that he himself is under.”
Gao's wife Geng He fled China with the couple's two children after her husband "disappeared" for more than a year, arriving in the United States with the couple's two children in 2009.
During the Chinese New Year in February, Geng told RFA that she had tried to contact Gao, but was unsuccessful.
Defending the vulnerable
Once a prominent lawyer lauded by the 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, 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.
In December 2011, China's official Xinhua news agency said in a terse announcement that Gao had been imprisoned for three years for repeatedly violating his probation terms.
The announcement drew strong criticism from the United Nations, United States and the European Union, all of which have repeatedly called for Gao's release, and by overseas rights groups, including Amnesty International.
Geng He and fellow activists say they fear the authorities may decide to whisk Gao off into secret detention, given the sensitive nature of the cases he has defended.
Since Geng's account of her husband's torture, overseas rights groups have highlighted the cases of several more Chinese activists subjected to cruel or degrading treatment while in detention.
In January, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, which translates and collates reports from rights groups inside China, called on the authorities to investigate complaints made by the victims' lawyers.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.