US urges China to release rights lawyer
Washington - The US urged China on Friday to "immediately release" human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and to clarify his whereabouts.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters the US is "deeply disappointed" by the announcement to send him back to jail just as his five-year suspended sentence was set to expire next week.
"We are especially concerned about Gao's welfare and whereabouts, including reports that his family has been unable to communicate with him," Nuland said.
"And we reiterate our calls for the Chinese government to immediately release Gao from custody and clarify his whereabouts," she said.
A Beijing court sent Gao back to prison for three years after ruling he had violated the terms of his probation, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday.
Gao - who defended some of China's most vulnerable people including Christians and coal miners - was arrested in February 2009 and has been held incommunicado by the authorities.
He briefly reappeared in March 2010 when he was apparently released by police, speaking with a few friends and colleagues, many of whom reported that he continued to be tailed by authorities and was in ill health.
A month later, he disappeared again and has not been heard from since.