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Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Missing Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng is 'out west'

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Gao Zhisheng ( file photo)
Gao Zhisheng is apparently alive and working in the city of Urumqi

A Chinese lawyer missing for more than a year is alive and living in the far west of the country, a US-based human rights group had said.

China's embassy in Washington told the Dui Hua Foundation that Gao Zhisheng was working in the city of Urumqi.

Mr Gao was thought to be in police detention but, until now, the government has declined to even confirm it was holding him.

The lawyer was taken from his family's home in February last year.

There has recently been increased pressure on the Chinese government from overseas organisations and governments to reveal details about the lawyer.

Few details

The news about Mr Gao was passed to the Dui Hua Foundation, which campaigns on behalf of people detained in Chinese prisons.

Its founder, John Kamm, was sent emails by the Chinese embassy confirming Mr Gao's whereabouts.

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Mr Kamm told the BBC: "They told me that Gao Zhisheng is alive and working in Urumqi, and there has been contact with his family."

This last point is contested. Mr Gao's wife and two children now live in the United States and have not heard from him, said Mr Kamm.

The BBC also tried to reach Mr Gao's brother - a farmer from Shaanxi province who has been leading the hunt for the lawyer - but his telephone line is now "out of service".

Gao Zhisheng, a self-taught lawyer, gained an international reputation for defending some of Chinese most disadvantaged people.

But his work led to his legal practice being closed down. He was also put on trial in 2006 for subversion and given a suspended prison sentence.

Mr Gao and his family were then put under surveillance, pressure that forced the lawyer's wife and children to escape from China last year.

About the same time Mr Gao went missing. He called his brother last summer to say he was alright, but could not say where he was.

The lawyer's brother was later told by a police officer that he had "gone missing".

And when asked recently about Mr Gao, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said he was "where he should be".

Although the Chinese government has provided confirmation that Mr Gao is living in the western region of Xinjiang, it has so far not given a full account of what has happened to him.

Many horrendous evils were committed that were too shameful to be written down in the chronicles of the governments of the world
Gao Zhisheng

But Mr Kamm, whose organisation is based in San Francisco, said this was a "tentative step in the right direction".

"We have important movement in two respects: he is alive and working, and China acknowledges that he has the right to communicate."

Mr Kamm said he was trying to find out more details about Mr Gao.



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