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Missing China lawyer has been judged

Associated Press / January 23, 2010

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BEIJING - A Chinese human rights lawyer missing for almost a year has been judged by legal authorities and “is where he should be,’’ a Foreign Ministry official said in China’s first public comment on the case.

Gao Zhisheng, one of China’s most daring lawyers, has drawn international attention for the unusual length of his disappearance and for his earlier reports of the torture he said he faced from security forces. In a memoir, he described severe beatings, electric shocks to his genitals, and cigarettes held to his eyes.

His brother said earlier this month that the Beijing police officer who took Gao away in February 2009 told him he “went missing’’ in September, leading to fears for the lawyer’s safety.

But at a regular press conference Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu indicated that Gao was in custody, after he was asked whether he knew where Gao was.

“The relevant judicial authorities have decided this case, and we should say this person, according to Chinese law, is where he should be,’’ Ma said.

“As far as what exactly he’s doing, I don’t know. You can ask relevant authorities,’’ he said.

A transcript of Thursday’s press conference posted on the ministry’s website did not include the question on Gao or Ma’s response.

Beijing’s Public Security Bureau referred questions yesterday to the Beijing High Court.

Gao has been one of China’s best-known activist lawyers, taking on sensitive cases involving the banned Falun Gong spiritual group and eventually advocating constitutional reform. After he disappeared last year, it was presumed police had taken him into custody. It has never been clear what happened to him after that.

A lawyer for Gao, Li Fangping, called the Foreign Ministry’s comments “extremely insincere,’’ and said yesterday that after one year, no one in Gao’s family knows where he is.