Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng suddenly called his friends and family yesterday, saying he had been released. This has come as quite a shock, given that just a few months ago he was “missing,” according to the authorities who were supposedly holding him. Many people, including us, took the odd officialspeak (that Gao “lost his way and went missing”) to mean that he had been secretly executed.
But Gao lives. According to the New York Times, he’s currently staying on Wutai Mountain, the famous Buddhist haven, though no one seems to know why.
In a brief phone 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.”
But from there, the story gets stranger. According to a conversation he had with Reuters, Gao has been released for six months — so he says — but no one, not even his wife, had heard from him until yesterday. Sina’s Hong Kong service and other Chinese news sites are reporting that Gao’s family and friends felt he sounded as though he was lying when he spoke to them. From Sina:
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, missing for over a year, suddenly gave family and friends phone calls yesterday. Although he said he had “already been released for half a year” and that he was at the famous Buddhist Wutai Mountain “because I want to spend some time in peace”, but his wife and the friends who talked to him all say he seemed “insincere,” and that his wording contradicted itself and [his wife and friends] suspected there was someone by his side watching him. This paper attempted to contact the number reported to be Gao’s, but the phone was turned off.
No one doubts the voice was really Gao, though; the story goes on to say that Gao’s wife “confirmed the person on the phone really was Gao Zhisheng.”
What, exactly is going on here? It seems like Gao may still be imprisoned, or at the very least, under strict surveillance. Otherwise, why would he wait six months after gaining his freedom before calling his wife? But the possibilities are nearly endless. I don’t claim to know what’s going on, but I sure wish I did, and I bet Gao’s family does, too.
Apologies to Alex Taggart for stepping on his new post, a translation of Ran Yunfei’s thoughts on domestic microblogging, which is excellent and can be found here.