A year later, China mum on activist who vanished

By Cara Anna
Associated Press / February 4, 2010

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BEIJING - One of China’s most daring activist lawyers disappeared a year ago today, and the government that so closely monitored him has not explained where he is, infuriating even those used to Beijing’s indifference to outside pressure on human rights.

High-profile dissidents have disappeared in China before, but not for so long without details from authorities. Family and friends have no idea whether Gao Zhisheng, who had been under strict police surveillance, is even in custody.

Officials have been teasingly vague, with a policeman telling Gao Zhiyi his brother “went missing’’ and a Foreign Ministry official last month saying the self-taught lawyer “is where he should be.’’ As is typical in China, state-run media have not mentioned the case.

“Why are you in such a hurry? Just wait,’’ police told Gao Zhiyi a few days ago, then hung up, Gao Zhisheng’s wife said last night.

China’s surprisingly casual response to a high-profile case raised repeatedly by US officials, the United Nations, and rights groups is a troubling sign of the country’s overall hardening stance on a wide range of issues, observers said. They pointed to ever-tightening Internet controls, last month’s execution of a British man with reported mental problems, and the unprecedented threat of sanctions against companies involved in a planned US arms sale to Taiwan.

A US Embassy spokeswoman said yesterday that the government is deeply concerned about Gao’s safety.

“We have raised our concerns about Mr. Gao’s well-being and whereabouts repeatedly, both in Washington and in Beijing,’’ said Susan Stevenson. She said she could not talk about the details of diplomatic exchanges, including China’s response.

The scattered responses from officials have made Gao’s friends and supporters even more worried about the forceful but charming man who took on extremely sensitive cases involving underground Christians and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.

In a written statement made public just before he disappeared last year, Gao described severe beatings from Chinese security forces, electric shocks to his genitals, and cigarettes held to his eyes during a 2007 detention.

“Your death is sure if you share this with the outside world,’’ one of his jailers warned him, Gao wrote.

Some supporters fear the worst.