BEIJING — Gao Zhisheng, the Chinese rights activist who has been missing for more than a year, has resurfaced near his hometown in northern China.
Miranda Mimi Kuo for The New York Times
Gao Zhisheng, shown here in 2005, gave few details beyond saying he had been “sentenced but released.”
Times Topic: China
In a brief telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Gao said that he was no longer in police custody, but that he could not give any details of his predicament. “I’m fine now, but I’m not in a position to be interviewed,” he said from Wutai Mountain, the site of a well-known Buddhist monastery. “I’ve been sentenced but released.”
Since Mr. Gao disappeared into the custody of public security personnel in February 2009, the Chinese government has provided a series of contradictory and cryptic explanations of his whereabouts, despite entreaties by the United Nations, the White House and the European Union.
During a previous detention in 2006, Mr. Gao said he was tortured by his captors. He said they repeatedly applied electric shocks to his body and warned him that he would be killed if he revealed how he was treated.
A lawyer and outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Mr. Gao gained notice for his defense of society’s most marginalized citizens: farmers evicted from their land, members of underground Christian churches and practitioners of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual movement.
In addition to his legal work, rights activists say Mr. Gao probably infuriated the authorities by writing protest letters to China’s top leaders about the persecution of Falun Gong adherents and by publicly discussing the torture he says he endured.
A month before he disappeared last year, his wife and two young children evaded round-the-clock surveillance of their Beijing apartment and made an overland escape to Thailand. Granted asylum by the United States, they now live in New York.
In recent months, the Chinese government has offered conflicting accounts of Mr. Gao’s whereabouts. Last fall, Mr. Gao’s brother said public security officials told him he had “gone missing” during a walk. A Foreign Ministry spokesman later told reporters that Mr. Gao was simply “where he should be,” without providing further details.
In February a San Francisco-based human rights group, the Dui Hua Foundation, said the Chinese Embassy in Washington had insisted that Mr. Gao was working in the far western Xinjiang region and that he had been in contact with his family. His wife, however, said she had not heard from him.
During a joint news conference this month in Beijing with the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, said that Mr. Gao had been sentenced on subversion charges. “There is no such thing as him being tortured,” Mr. Yang said without elaboration.
Reached on his cellphone, Mr. Gao sounded upbeat but guarded, suggesting that he had been instructed not to speak to the news media. He said that he was going to spend time with his extended family in Shanxi Province and that he had no plans to return to his work as a rights defender. “Right now I just need to calm down and lead a quiet life,” he said.
Then he turned melancholy and made an allusion to his wife and children in the United States. “They are like kites that have had their strings cut, and now they are floating far off into the sky,” he said before hanging up.
Zhang Jing and Xiyun Yang contributed research.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 31, 2010
A picture caption on Monday with an article about a missing Chinese rights activist, Gao Zhisheng, who has resurfaced a year after being taken into custody by public security personnel, omitted the date of the photograph of Mr. Gao. It was taken in December 2005.