Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is being held in secret police custody in a darkened room with no access to the outside, according to a rights group that has been advocating for him.
Gao, 53, has been incommunicado after disappearing on Aug. 13 from his previous house arrest in a cave dwelling in a remote village in the northern province of Shaanxi.
Now, the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group headed by rights activist Ai Ming says it has tracked him down, publishing a brief audio clip of Gao talking about the conditions he is being held in.
"I haven't seen the light of day, nor taken any exercise in eight years," Gao can be heard saying in the audio recording, saying that his conditions are even worse than during his three-year jail term at Shaya Prison in a remote area of the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
"Things weren't so bad in Shaya Prison," Gao says in the undated audio sent to RFA by Ai. "During my time there, I got to leave the closed cell at times. I also got to leave the prison building twice during those three years."
Gao said he is currently locked up in total darkness, in a room where the windows have been blacked out to prevent any natural light from coming in. He said it feels like being confined in an "infinite darkness."
"He is currently being held in secret detention, so they definitely won't be allowing him access to the outside, nor any medical treatment," Ai told RFA on Sunday.
"We are very worried about his situation in secret detention, that he will be subjected to torture like he was before," she said. "The denial of medical treatment is a form of slow torture ... and we are worried that he might [die in custody] if this continues."
Ai said Gao had a number of illnesses. "For example, his teeth have all fallen out, so he can only eat liquids," she said.
However, officials gave conflicting information about Gao's whereabouts when contacted by RFA on Sunday.
An official who answered the phone at the Jialu township government in Shanxi's Jia county, which administers Gao's home village, said his case is being managed by the local "stability maintenance" team."
"I don't know the details. I think the stability maintenance team is handling it. I can give you the number of a Mr. Xue who's in charge of it," she said.
But Xue declined to give a direct answer when asked about Gao's whereabouts on Sunday.
"As far as I recall, he is still in the village, but maybe he is here.
Yes, he is. He never went [to Beijing]. He spent some time at a friend's place," Xue said.
His account contradicted that of Gao's brother, who told RFA last month that his brother had been placed in detention by authorities in Beijing.
Asked when Gao went to the friend's house, he replied: "I don't know.
This wasn't part of our remit. It was the Jia county [police]. But he's fine, anyway. Nothing happened to him, nothing at all."
"[The Jia county police] told us that he's fine. OK, I have to go now," Xue said.
And Gao's defense attorney Zhang Lei said the Jia county police had denied being in charge of Gao's case when he went there in person on Nov. 9 to enquire about his client's whereabouts.
"We don't know what our next move should be, and we have no way of finding out what is really happening," Zhang told RFA. "Under the law, if he is implicated in a case, the family should be informed. If he's not, he should be a free man."
Gao Zhisheng, 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, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.