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Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mystery of missing Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng deepens

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Gao Zhisheng ( file photo)
Lawyer Gao Zhisheng disappeared more than a year ago

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng continues following comments from China's foreign minister.

Yang Jiechi said the well-known lawyer had been sentenced after being charged with subverting state power.

But it was not immediately clear whether that referred to an old charge, or a new one brought against Mr Gao.

There has been growing international concern about the activist, who disappeared more than a year ago.

Mr Yang was speaking at a news conference in Beijing, held with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is currently visiting China.

No clarification

Mr Yang said: "Gao Zhisheng has been sentenced on the charge of subverting state power."

The Chinese foreign minister denied a suggestion that Mr Gao had been tortured, saying that his rights had been protected.

We are willing to have human rights dialogue with the UK and other countries on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs
Yang Jiechi
Chinese Foreign Minister

He said he hoped foreigners would respect China's judicial system.

"We are willing to have human rights dialogue with the UK and other countries on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs," Mr Yang added.

Mr Miliband said that he had raised the lawyer's case with the Chinese government.

Mr Gao was given a three-year prison sentence - suspended for five years - for inciting subversion in 2006, but Mr Yang's comment did not make it clear if new charges had since been brought.

After Mr Yang spoke, the foreign ministry declined to clarify the comments.

Rare case

Mr Gao went missing at the beginning of last year. He was believed to be in police custody, but no-one knows for sure.

His case is unusual because there has been little official word on what has happened to him - apart from several contradictory comments from Chinese officials.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said earlier this year that Mr Gao was "where he should be".

Last month, China's embassy in Washington told a US-based human rights group, the Dui Hua Foundation, said Mr Gao was working in Urumqi, a city in the far west of the country.

The foreign minister's comments look set to deepen the speculation surrounding Gao Zhisheng.



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