China rights lawyer gets rare prison visit: wife
WASHINGTON DC, USA - China has allowed relatives to visit imprisoned human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng in the first confirmation in months that the prominent dissident is alive, his wife said Wednesday, January 23.
Gao, who has taken on some of China's most sensitive cases, such as those of underground Christians, the Falungong spiritual movement and dispossessed farmers, has been held virtually incommunicado since February 2009.
Human Rights in China, a New York-based advocacy group, said that Gao's brother and father-in-law saw him on January 12 at a remote prison in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the first family visit since March 24.
Gao's wife Geng He, who fled to the United States with the couple's two children in 2009 after what she said was police harassment, told AFP that the relatives were not allowed to ask any questions about Gao's condition.
"Basically they were only able to know that he was alive. They were not able to find out anything else," Geng said in a telephone interview.
"I am very worried because it has already been 10 months from the last visit to the latest visit and they don't have any information on how he is doing."
"I am urging anyone -- US consulate officials and others in the international community -- to try to go visit Gao and relay his feelings about exactly how he is doing," she added.
Gao's wife said there was no indication on how long he will remain in prison.
"There was no sign on this at all. I am hoping with some more pressure and more awareness, that the international community might be able to help and bring about an early release," she said.
Geng said the relatives could see that he was able to walk but otherwise had little information. When the visitors asked whether Gao was allowed to watch television and read newspapers, the guard interrupted and said that Gao had not shown enough cooperation to enjoy access to media, she said.
Human Rights in China said in a statement that "Gao's mind seemed clear and he spoke normally" when the relatives talked to him through a glass window.
Gao was briefly released in March 2010 but then sent back to prison. China has spoken sparingly about Gao's case; in December 2011, the state-run Xinhua news agency said he was returned to prison for violating probation terms.
During an earlier period under house arrest, Gao said he suffered torture by the police, including electric shocks to his genitals and cigarette burns to his eyes.
The United State has repeatedly raised concerns about Gao and other imprisoned Chinese dissidents such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, a writer who was sentenced to 11 years for subversion after leading a bold petition for protection of human rights.
Another leading activist, Chen Guangcheng, dramatically escaped from house arrest last year to the safety of the US embassy in Beijing and, after tense negotiations, was allowed to leave for New York with his family.
Chen, a blind self-taught lawyer who exposed abuses in China's one-child-only policy, will visit the US Capitol on Tuesday to be presented a human rights award named in the memory of late lawmaker Tom Lantos. - Rappler.com