A dissident Chinese lawyer who was missing for more than a year on Sunday said he is now living in northern China and wants only to spend time with his family away from media attention.
Gao Zhisheng went missing from his hometown in Shaanxi province on February 4, 2009, drawing international attention for the unusual length of his disappearance and for earlier reports of torture he said he faced from security forces.
Contacted on his cell phone, Gao said he is living in Wutai Shan, a mountain range in Shanxi province that is a place for Buddhist pilgrimages, and that he is "free at present."
"I just want to be in peace and quiet for a while, and be reunited with my family," Gao said. "Most people belong with family, I have not been with mine for a long time. This is a mistake and I want to correct this mistake."
Gao declined to answer further questions, saying he was not allowed by law, nor was he willing, to accept media interviews. A number of friends and other lawyers contacted by The Associated Press said they had not heard any news about Gao.
Gao was known for his legal work on sensitive cases involving underground Christians and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.
Since he went missing, the government that so closely monitored him has not said where he was. The US and the EU have called on China to investigate his disappearance.
In a statement made public just before he disappeared last year, Gao described severe beatings from Chinese security forces, electric shocks to his genitals, and cigarettes held to his eyes during a 2007 detention.
Gao was arrested in August 2006, convicted at a one-day trial and placed under house arrest. State media at the time said he was accused of subversion on the basis of nine articles posted on foreign Websites.
The constant police surveillance wore on his wife and children and they fled China a month before Gao disappeared and were accepted by the US as refugees.
Officials have been vague on his whereabouts, with a policeman telling Gao's brother that the lawyer "went missing," and a Foreign Ministry official saying earlier this year the self-taught lawyer "is where he should be." Chinese state-run media have not mentioned the case.