Gao was arrested in 2009 and accused of inciting subversion. He was released in 2010 but after claiming torture during his detention, Gao disappeared. In 2011, state media reported Gao had been sentenced to three years in prison for probation violations.
His release was expected.
In late July, U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowksi issued a plea for "Chinese authorities to release Gao as scheduled on August 7th and allow him to return to his family, without harassment or restrictions to his movement."
Following his release on Thursday, Gao returned to his father-in-law's home in Urumqi. However, it is unclear whether the human rights lawyer, originally from China's restive region of Xinjiang, will be allowed to move freely inside China.