BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Family members of jailed Christian rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng have been allowed to visit him in a remote Chinese prison, providing the first confirmation in months that he is still alive, rights activists said Wednesday, January 23.
Gao's younger brother and father-in-law met him at a prison in Shaya county of far west Xinjiang region on January 12, reported Human Rights in China (HRIC).
The group quoted Gao’s wife, Geng He, as saying he appeared "clear-minded and spoke normally".
Gao, who defended China's growing house churches and members of the Falun Gong religious cult, was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 2006 on charges of "inciting subversion of state power".
He was initially released on probation, but detained in 2009.
"TORTURED IN PRISON"
Gao reappeared in March 2010, saying he had been "severely tortured" while in prison.
The lawyer disappeared again in April 2010. Nothing was known of his whereabouts until December 2011 when Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Gao violated the terms of his probation and had been returned to prison for three years.
Meanwhile, Gao’s brother Gao Zhiyi repeatedly requested permission to visit him in prison, Christians said.
In August last year two rights defense lawyers reportedly traveled from Beijing to meet with Gao but were told that he "did not want to see any family or lawyers."
Later in November 2012, on the eve of the 18th National Party Congress, Gao’s family received a letter purporting to be from Gao himself instructing them not to visit him.
GAO'S SAFETY FEARS
His brother thought the letter was strange and became worried for Gao’s safety, according to Christians familiar with the case.
Yet, "This month's visit is important confirmation that Gao is still alive " noted advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which closely followed the case.
CSW Advoacy Director Andrew Johnston said his group is "very pleased" that family members visited the rights lawyer, but expressed concern "about the lack of information about Gao’s well-being and the schedule for his release."
He told BosNewsLife that CSW has urged China to allow Gao’s family and lawyers to meet him in prison "and to ensure that he is treated in line with the standards set out in the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners".
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