The United States on Wednesday renewed an appeal to China to free prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has not heard from since last year, as Vice President Joe Biden began a visit to Beijing.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Biden would bring up human rights during his visit but referred reporters to his staff when asked if the vice president would raise Gao’s case in particular.
“Let me take this opportunity to again urge the Chinese government to ensure that Gao Zhisheng is immediately released from custody and to clarify the details surrounding this case and his whereabouts,” Nuland said.
“The protection of human rights is a central part of President (Barack) Obama’s foreign policy both in China and elsewhere,” she said.
“Vice President Biden will raise our concerns about the human rights situation throughout China on this visit, as we consistently do,” the spokeswoman said.
“We’ve repeatedly raised our concerns about Mr. Gao’s whereabouts and well-being with the Chinese government,” according to Nuland.
“And we’ve expressed our deep concern about the reports that he may have been tortured by security officials,” she said.
The lawyer — who defended some of China’s most vulnerable people including Christians and coal miners — was convicted in 2006 on subversion charges, given a three-year suspended sentence and placed under house arrest.
Gao disappeared in February 2009, sparking global concern. He reappeared in March 2010, when he was apparently released by police. A month later, he disappeared again and has not been heard from since.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly refused to make public Gao’s whereabouts or detail any fresh charges that may have been brought against him.