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03/30/2012 China (Compass Direct News) – Confirmation this week of China’s assertion in December that human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is alive and serving out a prison sentence is key as efforts continue for his release, a human rights attorney said.

Gao, a Christian whose advocacy for religious minorities led to his conviction in 2006 for “subversion,” is serving a previously suspended sentence of three years in Shaya County Prison in Xinjiang region in western China. The government had informed Gao’s brother on Dec. 29 that he was detained at the remote Shaya prison, according to an urgent petition by Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Freedom Now to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, but officials had refused the family’s request to visit the prisoner.

Chinese officials granted permission for Gao’s brother, Gao Zhiyi, to visit the rights attorney on Saturday (March 24), The Associated Press reported this week.

Jared Genser, president of Freedom Now, told Compass that confirmation of Gao’s imprisonment was important, as “it was not a foregone conclusion that he was alive, given the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] record for reporting on the whereabouts and health” of detainees.

“The United States has worked publicly and privately for Gao’s release, but we’re looking for the White House, specifically the president and vice president, to get involved, and so far this has not happened,” Genser said. “We’re pushing hard, but so far we’re not getting a positive response.”

U.S. Department of State officials and members of Congress have voiced support for Gao’s release or acted on his behalf, and Genser said he is hoping for Congress to pass a (non-binding) resolution regarding the need to free him following the violation of his rights.

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