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China adds to confusion over missing rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng

Posted by Author on March 16, 2010

DPA Via, Mar. 16, 2010-

Beijing – China on Tuesday said it had sentenced a leading rights lawyer to three years in prison but it was apparently referring to a sentence passed in 2006, adding to the confusion since the lawyer disappeared 13 months ago. “What I can tell you now is that Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three years imprisonment suspended for five years for inciting and subverting state power,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

Qin declined to elaborate on his statement or say if he was announcing a new sentence against Gao, referring questions to “judicial authorities.”

China had tried to silence Gao by passing a three-year suspended prison sentence for subversion at a closed trial in December 2006.

Gao, 44, who was nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, was detained by police again in February 2009, and relatives and supporters said they have not seen him since then.

Qin’s comment is the latest in a series of vague and sometimes bizarre statements on Gao’s whereabouts by Chinese officials.

Last month, a Chinese embassy official in Washington told the US-based Dui Hua Foundation that Gao was “working” in Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, and “has been in contact with his wife and relatives in China.”

Gao’s wife, Geng He, who lives in exile in the United States, later denied that she had any recent contact with Gao.

His brother, Gao Zhiyi, was told by a Beijing police officer who detained the lawyer that he “got lost and went missing while out on a walk” on September 25, US-based China Aid and other groups reported in January.

Asked about that report in mid-January, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Gao was “where he should be” but declined to elaborate.

In another statement when asked about Gao’s whereabouts in February, Ma said, “I don’t know where he is. China has 1.3 billion people.”

Gao’s last contact with his brother was a telephone call in early September, when he was only able to say, “I’m OK,” before the line went dead, China Aid said.

Geng and the couple’s two children made a dramatic escape from close police surveillance and arrived in the United States in January 2009 after travelling overland from China to Thailand.

Gao is a self-taught lawyer who built a reputation as a stout defender of people who suffered injustices at the hands of Chinese government officials and the police.

The government closed his Beijing-based Shengzhi law firm in 2005 after he called via the internet for an end to the persecution of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement who were sent to a re-education camp.

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