Relatives of an outspoken human rights lawyer jailed after being secretly held by Chinese security agents were told Tuesday that he is undergoing a three-month "education period" and will be denied visitors for at least that much time, his wife said.
Authorities told relatives who traveled to China's remote Xinjiang region to see Gao Zhisheng that he will be able to have visitors after the education period only if he behaves well, said Geng He, his wife. She spoke in a telephone interview from California, where she now lives.
"I don't know what they're up to, but this seems very wrong," said Geng. "And we still have no proof that Gao is actually in that jail."
Gao was held incommunicado in apparent disregard of laws and regulations for all but two months of the last three years, and the forced disappearances set off an international outcry.
According to state media, he began serving a three-year sentence for subversion last month in Shaya county in the far western Xinjiang region.
Gao was a galvanizing figure for the rights movement, advocating constitutional reform and arguing landmark cases to defend property rights and political and religious dissenters. He was convicted in the subversion case in 2006, but was released on probation.
In 2009, however, Gao was taken away by security agents. When he emerged 14 months later, in April 2010, he told The Associated Press that he had been shunted among detention centers, farm houses and apartments across northern China and had been repeatedly beaten and abused. He said he had been hooded several times, and that his captors made him sit motionless for up to 16 hours and threatened to kill him and dump his body in a river.
Not long after the interview, Gao disappeared again.
While he was missing, Gao's case was raised by the U.S. and European governments, drawing cryptic responses from Chinese officials. In December, state media reported that he was being sent back to prison for violating the terms of his probation.
Gao's elder brother received a notice on Jan. 1 that Gao was being held in Shaya. Geng said the family repeatedly tried to reach Shaya prison authorities by phone before they traveled to Xinjiang, but the phone there was never answered.
Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said Chinese prisons routinely enforce tougher restrictions for new prisoners during their first few weeks or their first month in jail, but he added that a three-month education period seemed unusually long.