Story highlights

Gao Zhisheng's family hasn't seen him since he was detained in April 2010

His brother and father-in-law visited him in prison Saturday, a nonprofit group says

Gao made his name representing vulnerable Chinese citizens

His activism has resulted in several periods of detention

Beijing CNN —  

Relatives of Gao Zhisheng, an imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer, have been able to see him for the first time since the authorities took him away nearly two years ago, a nonprofit group said Wednesday.

Gao’s brother and father-in-law visited him for half an hour at Shaya prison in a remote area of the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, Texas-based nonprofit ChinaAid said in a statement, citing Gao’s wife, Geng He, who now lives in the United States.

Gao made a name for himself representing disadvantaged Chinese citizens, like people who had lost land to big construction projects, protesting factory workers and followers of prohibited religious movements. But his activism attracted the attention of the authorities.

He was convicted of inciting subversion in 2006 and was put on probation for five years.

The authorities have taken Gao into custody several times since his conviction, and his wife fled to the United States with their children in 2009.

The police detained him again in April 2010, and his family had not seen him since. In December, the Chinese authorities announced that he would serve a three-year prison term for violating the terms of his probation, which was about to expire.

U.S. officials have asked the Chinese authorities about Gao’s case during talks about human rights, a sensitive topic for Beijing.

Geng told ChinaAid, which advocates religious freedom and the rule of law in China, that she had spoken to Gao’s brother following the prison visit Saturday. He told her he was relieved to see his brother alive, she said.

Attempts to reach Gao’s brother, Gao Zhiyi, on Thursday were unsuccessful.

In testimony to the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China last month, Geng said the lack of information about Gao was causing her and their children severe anguish.

“We don’t know if guards are torturing him again,” she said. “We don’t even know if he is still alive.”

CNN’s Chi-Chi Zhang and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.