UPDATED at 9:46 A.M. EST on 2017-11-21
One hundred days after prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng went missing from house arrest, police in the northern province of Shaanxi have denied claims from ruling Chinese Communist Party village officials that they are holding him.
A police officer who answered the phone at the Jia county police department on Monday was unable to answer questions on Gao's whereabouts when contacted by RFA on Monday.
"Ah yes, right, I don't really know, because it's not our case," the officer said, when asked to confirm Gao's whereabouts. "This isn't a criminal police matter."
Asked who is overseeing Gao's detention, the officer replied: "The state security police."
Asked if Gao is in the custody of state security police, the officer said: "Uh-huh," before hanging up the phone.
Gao, 56, has been incommunicado after disappearing on Aug. 13 from his previous house arrest in a cave dwelling in Jia county's Xiaoshibanqiao village.
Last week, a rights group monitoring Gao's case said he is being held in secret police custody in a darkened room with no access to the outside, but without specifying which branch of China's police are holding him.
An official from nearby Jiahu township told RFA at the time that Gao is being held by the county police department, which could include the county branch of the state security police, and that he is "fine."
An official who answered the phone at the Jia County Detention Center said Gao isn't an inmate there.
"Gao Zhisheng. There's no one by that name here," the official said. Asked if Gao had ever been an inmate, the official replied: "No, I've never seen him before."
But he couldn't rule out the possibility that Gao is being held under a prisoner number only, with no name on the public record.
"I couldn't tell you that," the official said.
Rights activist Ai Ming, who heads the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group, said she and other supporters had made repeated calls to try to confirm Gao's whereabouts, to no avail.
"Today is the 100th day of lawyer Gao Zhisheng's disappearance," Ai said. "I call on any online activist who cares about Gao to retweet news about him, and to call the Jia county police department to inquire about what happened to him."
Gao, once a prominent lawyer feted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, 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 a published memoir, Gao details the torture he later endured at the hands of the authorities during his time in prison, as well as three years of solitary confinement, during which he said he was sustained by his Christian faith and his hopes for China.
Activists say his continuing house arrest even after being "released" from jail mirrors the treatment meted out to fellow rights lawyers and activists detained in a nationwide police operation since July 2015.
Gao's wife Geng He fled to the U.S. with the couple's two children after Gao's last disappearance in 2009, where she has continued to speak out on his behalf.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.