Beijing (AsiaNews) - Authorities in the western province of Xinjiang have released the Christian lawyer and human rights activist Gao Zhisheng, one of the most critical and best known throughout China. Despite having been released from prison - after 3 years - after serving his full sentence, the dissident is not really free. Since leaving prison, yesterday, he has been under the constant escort of provincial security agents; Moreover, it is not yet able to talk on the phone with his family and friends.
His older brother Gao Zhiyi went to pick him up at the prison, but since then - according to his wife Geng He, who is currently in the United States - "it is impossible to talk to him." The well-known activist Hu Jia, a family friend, said he had spoken to his brother: "He explained that Gao's teeth are ruined and he is now looking for treatment in Urumqi [capital of Xinjiang ed.] Once he has been seen, they want to return in their native village of Yulin, Shaanxi province".
Gao Zhisheng is one of the most respected human rights lawyers in China, and for a long time - before his conversion - was one of the "Ten best lawyers in the country" chosen by the Communist Party. After this first successful phase of his life, in 2005, he sought to compile a huge dossier on the persecution of non-official Christians and members of the Falun Gong. Moved by these testimonies, Gao embraced the Christian faith. Since then he took up the defense of persecuted believers and congregations and churches whose land and property had been expropriated free of charge, which led to his being targeted by the authorities.
He has been the victim of harassment and physical threats for many years. In December 2006 he was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, suspended from practicing for five years on charges of "inciting subversion". At first he was allowed to return home, but in reality was placed under illegal under house arrest with his wife and children. In 2009, his family managed to escape from China because of the constant harassment by the authorities.
On 4 February 2009 the police took Gao Zhisheng from his home. For over a year there was no news of his whereabouts until the end of March 2010, when he gave an interview in which he describes his odyssey, including torture. He described having been beaten so violently that once "my life was hanging by a thread for forty-eight hours." A few days after the interview, he disappeared again. In December 2011, after twenty months, the state press announced that he had been jailed for violating bail conditions. Family and friends, who did not know whether Gao was alive or dead, were not informed until the final sentence.