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A leading Chinese official has publicly commented on the case of missing dissident Gao Zhisheng, who was sentenced on charges of subverting state power. But his answer raises more questions about the lawyer, who disappeared into police custody more than one year ago.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi says Gao Zhisheng has been sentenced on charges of subverting state power. He denied reports that Gao has been tortured.
In recent days, U.N. torture investigator Manfred Nowak told reporters in Geneva he is concerned about the missing Chinese lawyer and believes Gao has been "severely tortured."
At a regular news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang gave more details about Gao's sentence.
Qin says Gao was sentenced to three years in prison and five years on reprieve, for inciting subversion of national power.
The spokesman did not say when the sentence was handed down, but it is identical to a sentence given to Gao in December 2006.
The Chinese government named Gao one of the country's top lawyers in 2001 for his work defending medical malpractice victims and dispossessed landowners. He ran afoul of the government, however, after he started defending people accused of being part of the outlawed Falun Gong group.
Gao disappeared into police custody in February 2009 when he was on reprieve from his 2006 sentence. His whereabouts have become the focus of intense scrutiny after security authorities were quoted as saying he went missing late last year.
Last month, Chinese authorities said Gao is in Xinjiang, although family members say they have not heard from him.
Roseann Rife is with the rights group Amnesty International. She thinks the government's comments indicate Gao has been accused of somehow breaking the law again, in violation of his parole, even though policed watched him constantly.
"Under that system, if I understand the code correctly, if you do anything that is in violation of the law again, you can be taken back into custody. So, I guess that is what they are now saying has happened. But again, what has he actually done? What could he possibly be able to do while under this kind of surveillance?" she asks.
Rife says since the Chinese government has provided no information on Gao's whereabouts or the state of his health, it is only further confusing the situation.
"Every time they make some sort of comment, it does raise more and more questions. I hope that eventually, this leads us to actual confirmation of his status and whereabouts. That is the best we can hope for, I think," she said.
Gao is among the Chinese dissidents who have been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
During the past year, China's communist government has worked to silence criticism, with several prominent activists jailed and new efforts to censor publications and the Internet.