China denies arrested lawyer was tortured

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The Independent Online

Britain yesterday pressed China about the whereabouts of a human rights lawyer who vanished more than a year ago.

The intervention by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, came after Beijing confirmed that Gao Zhisheng, who was abducted from a relative's home in February last year, had been sentenced on a charge of "subverting state power". Speaking at a press conference with Mr Miliband, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, denied a claim by Mr Gao that he was tortured after an earlier arrest.

"Gao Zhisheng has been sentenced on the charge of subverting state power," Mr Yang said. "In accordance with China's judicial system, his relevant rights have been safeguarded. There is no such thing as him having been tortured."

In December 2006, Mr Gao was sentenced to three years in prison for posting subversive articles online and slandering the government in interviews with foreign media. In a rare display of leniency, his sentence was suspended for five years, meaning he did not have to serve it unless he committed another crime in that time. Mr Yang did not clarify if Mr Gao had been taken in under this sentence or had faced a second, secret, trial more recently.

Mr Miliband later told reporters that he was offered no further details. "There are different concerns about different cases, and the concern about [Mr Gao] is about where he is. That's why it's an important question to raise," he said. "We raise individual cases as well as the generic point. I explained why there was concern in the UK and why that was legitimate."

Last month, the Chinese embassy in Washington told a US human rights group that Mr Gao was working in Urumqi, in the far west of China.