The wife of missing Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has renewed calls for his release ahead of the official end of his prison sentence.
Geng He, who fled to the U.S. from China in early 2009 along with the couple's two children, said that Gao was handed a five-year probationary sentence following his conviction for subversion in a secret trial in December 2006.
"Gao Zhisheng was illegally detained by the Chinese Communist Party on Aug. 15, 2006, and sentenced to three years, which was later extended to five years," Geng said in a recent interview.
Gao has been "disappeared," and presumed held incommunicado since April 2010, in spite of an international campaign for his release.
"He should be set free on Aug. 15 this year. Not only is he not at home, nobody knows where he actually is," she said.
Gao, once feted as a top lawyer by the official media, renounced his Communist Party membership and openly called for an end to a crackdown on the banned Falun Gong spiritual group in the years leading up to the sentence.
Geng said Gao was no stranger to illegal detentions and "disappearances."
"In the past six years, Gao Zhisheng has disappeared no less than six times, and every time he has been tortured," she said.
She called on the Chinese authorities to allow him to return home on the day that his five-year probation ends.
"In China, such a good man, such a good lawyer, a man that society needs so badly, receives nothing but oppression and persecution," Geng said.
"Even if the Chinese Communist Party doesn't need him, or the country doesn't need him, his family needs him, and my children need him."
"The day when Gao Zhisheng should finish serving his sentence is here. It should be the day when he finally gets to go home. The whole family is waiting for this day," Geng said.
No answers from police
Gao's family say they have repeatedly contacted the Beijing state security police for information on his whereabouts, since he last contacted them in the spring of 2010.
"I remember grave-sweeping festival last year," Gao's brother Gao Zhiyi said.
"Gao Zhisheng came back home two or three times to sweep the graves. After he had been gone a few days I lost touch with him and haven't heard from him since."
Gao Zhiyi had received scant information from Beijing police, who have repeatedly responded by saying Gao is "missing."
"They said they didn't know [what had happened to Gao]," Gao Zhiyi said. "I also called that guy surnamed Sun a number of times. He said he had 'gone missing.'"
"I asked how he could have gone missing when he was under their surveillance, and he said [he just did.]"
"For every question, there are three things we don't know," said Gao Zhiyi, who said Gao was being followed by a routine state security police detail when he made the trip to his ancestral home in eastern Shandong province.
"If I call [Sun] now, he doesn't pick up the phone," he added.
'Hurt in prison'
He said his brother looked unwell at the time.
"At the time, I could tell he had been hurt in prison," Gao Zhiyi said. "He looked very beat up ... There was definitely something wrong with his chest. His coughing wasn't normal. He was like a man of 60, that's how it seemed."
"He stayed either two or three nights. The grave-sweeping festival is a traditional one, and there were 20-30 people who went from our family to visit the graves."
"About a week or 10 days after he left, he called us once when he was back in Beijing. Since then, there's been nothing," Gao Zhiyi said.
Last October, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a panel of independent experts in human rights and international law, said China should "provide for reparation of the harm caused" to Gao, who has previously claimed he was tortured in detention.
As a prominent rights lawyer in Beijing, Gao defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
In a secret trial in December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and given a suspended sentence of three years in prison, immediately placed under house arrest, and put on probation for five years.
Reported by Zhang Min for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.