Beijing: A Chinese lawyer missing for more than a year is in Xinjiang in the far west of the country, a human rights group says it was told by Chinese authorities.
The case of Gao Zhisheng, one of China`s most daring lawyers, has drawn international attention for the unusual length of his disappearance and for his earlier reports of the torture he said he faced from security forces.
A short statement from the San Francisco-based human rights group, the Dui Hua Foundation, said it had been told by the Chinese embassy in Washington that Gao was working in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang region.
John Kamm, the executive director of the foundation, said while the news is a "tentative step in the right direction toward accountability," there are still many questions that need to be answered if it is true Gao is in Urumqi.
"What is he doing there? How long has he been there?" Kamm said on Sunday from San Francisco.
Gao was known for his legal work on sensitive cases involving underground Christians and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.
Gao disappeared from his home town in Shaanxi province on February 04, 2009, and until now the government that so closely monitored him had not said where he was. The United States and the European Union have called on China to investigate Gao`s disappearance.
In a written statement made public just before he disappeared last year, Gao described severe beatings from Chinese security forces, electric shocks to his genitals, and cigarettes held to his eyes during a 2007 detention.
Gao was arrested in August 2006, convicted at a one-day trial and placed under house arrest. State media at the time said he was accused of subversion on the basis of nine articles posted on foreign Web sites.
The constant police surveillance wore on his wife and children and they fled China a month before Gao disappeared and were accepted by the United States as refugees.
Previously, officials have been vague on his whereabouts, with a policeman telling Gao Zhiyi that his brother "went missing," and a Foreign Ministry official last month saying the self-taught lawyer "is where he should be." Chinese state-run media have not mentioned the case.
On Sunday, Gao Zhiyi said he did not know where his brother was, and he had been trying to contact Beijing police, "but no one answers the phone”.
Jerome Cohen, an expert on China`s legal system at New York University School of Law, said it is an important case because authorities had to be answerable for Gao`s disappearance.
"Why the Chinese government chooses to play it this way is baffling," Cohen said from New York.