Dissident rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who remains under house arrest since his release from prison in August 2014, is unlikely to regain any measure of freedom before the ruling Chinese Communist Party's 19th congress later this year, his friends told RFA.
Gao, once a well-known human rights lawyer, now lives in a cave home in a remote village in the northern province of Shaanxi, and has been repeatedly denied permission by the Chinese police to see a dentist for treatment after losing several teeth to torture and neglect during his incarceration.
Gao, 53, has published a book detailing the torture he endured at the hands of the authorities during his time in prison, and has described being repeatedly tortured when he was secretly jailed at a "military site" during one of many disappearances.
"It's not going to happen, particularly not before the 19th Party Congress," a Xi'an-based friend of Gao's told RFA. "He will be put under very close surveillance, and there is no likelihood of his leaving that village."
"We will have to see whether an opportunity will arise after the Party Congress is over."
He said Gao's friends are extremely concerned about his safety and well-being.
"We are all very worried because the surveillance is so strict," the friend said. "I don't expect him to be allowed to leave."
Gao's memoir details the torture he 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 hope for China.
Fellow activists have been raising money to pay for a dentist, according to an activist who declined to be named.
"I think this shows that Gao Zhisheng still wields a very strong influence," the activist said. "That's why the Chinese Communist Party is keeping him under house arrest even after releasing him from prison."
"I think they want to go a step further in diminishing that influence, and to make an example of him, to frighten other rights activists, lawyers, and dissidents, because all they believe in is power and violence."
Gao remains under 24-hour surveillance by state security police after his release from a three-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power" handed down in 2006 and suspended for five years, during which Gao repeatedly suffered forced disappearances and torture.
Call for release
William Nee, China researcher for the rights group Amnesty International, called on the Chinese government to release all prisoners of conscience.
"We have been following the case of Gao Zhisheng with concern, and we are extremely concerned that he has been placed under house arrest after being released from prison," Nee told RFA. "It is just another form of prison."
"We call [on the authorities] to allow Gao to go where he needs to go to get medical treatment, and to allow him to be genuinely at liberty," he said.
He said Gao's 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.
"They haven't even committed any crime, but the Chinese government continues to hold them under surveillance," he said.
Once highly praised 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.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.