Prominent Chinese Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng reportedly managed to briefly escape house arrest. But he was rearrested and his whereabouts are now unknown, a persecution watchdog group has found.
International Christian Concern reported on Wednesday that Gao's friends, Shao Zhongguo and Li Fawang, had helped the activist escape from his home in Shaanxi in August.
Gao hid in a vacation house in Jiexiu city for 23 days until he was recaptured by a large groups of state officers.
Li and Shao were also captured. Li briefly saw Gao when he was about to be sent back to Shaanxi for detention but "the encounter was so brief that Li was unable to utter a word to Gao. Gao's whereabouts became unknown after they parted ways," ICC reported.
"Both Li and Shao suffered mistreatment in detention. They were shackled, rejected daily necessities, beaten, fed leftover food, and Li, who suffers from diabetes, was denied medicine for the first few days and lost his eyesight as a result."
The Christian lawyer's wife and representatives have not been able to confirm what exactly happened to Gao, with the Communist government sharing little information.
Concerns for Gao are rising due to his declining health, including tooth loss and other issues. The watchdog group warned that authorities might treat him even worse after this past summer's escape.
"Though we are glad to know that Mr. Gao enjoyed brief freedom that was taken away from him for more than a decade, we are concerned about his treatment after being recaptured," said Gina Goh, ICC's regional manager.
"In most cases, the Chinese government treats human rights advocates and Christians on the same level as terrorists once they are imprisoned, often putting them through torture and solitary confinement. Given Gao's successful escape, he is subject to retaliation from law enforcement," she added.
"We hereby urge the Chinese government to stop its unlawful detention of Mr. Gao immediately."
China Aid elaborated on Gao's problems, noting that according to Li, the lawyer "had no teeth and had not eaten a decent meal for three years because of constant bleeding and toothaches."
Gao was initially scheduled to receive dental treatment when he escaped, but he refused to go out of fear that he would be found.
Gao has published writings and defended victims of various human rights abuses in China, and over the past decade he has disappeared and was officially detained by the Communist government on a number of occasions.
Back in 2016, Gao talked about the three years he spent in solitary confinement for standing up to the Chinese government, and said in an interview that it was his Christian faith that helped him through the isolation.
The wives of several Chinese human rights lawyers imprisoned and tortured by the government spoke before the U.S. Congress in May.
"Chinese officials repeatedly tell me I should focus more on the positive aspects of China and not dwell so much on the negative," Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, said at the time.
"That is a difficult task when you read Xie Yang's story, read Gao Zhisheng's account of his torture, or read the accounts of Yu Jie or Golog Jigme or Yin Liping."
Smith added, "These are some of China's bravest — now with broken bodies, shattered minds and faces that have aged 20 years after two years of solitary confinement and torture."