BEIJING, CHINA - A Chinese government official said Tuesday he had no idea of the whereabouts of a human rights lawyer feared to have died in custody.
State security personnel took Gao Zhisheng from his home village in the northern province of Shaanxi in February last year and he has not been heard from since, the New York-based Human Rights in China has said.
"I guess that he should be where he should be," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.
"But honestly speaking, I really have no way to get this type of information and I also don't know where he is," he said.
According to US-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, the police officer who detained Gao recently told the attorney's brother that Gao had been "missing" since September 25, sparking concern he may have died in custody.
"You cannot ask the foreign ministry spokesman to know where everyone is. China has a population of 1.3 billion, I cannot know where everyone is," Ma said.
Gao, once a prominent lawyer and Communist Party member, has been an outspoken defender of people seeking redress from the government including coal miners, underground Christians and the banned Falungong spiritual movement.
In December 2006 he was convicted of subversion, given a suspended sentence of three years in prison and immediately placed under house arrest.
After writing an open letter to the US Congress in 2007, Gao said he was subjected to several weeks of torture, including electric shocks to his genitals and having his eyes burned by cigarettes.
Gao's wife Geng He and their two children fled Beijing early last year to live in the United States after their daughter had tried to commit suicide several times. --AFP