An activist says one of China's best-known rights lawyers and fiery government critic has been released from prison but appears to be under close supervision by the authorities.

Hu Jia said attorney Gao Zhisheng was freed Thursday from a prison in a remote far-western county and is with his brother.

Hu said it appears the brothers are accompanied by minders who are preventing them from saying much.

Gao's wife said she was not allowed to speak to Gao on the phone.

Before his imprisonment, Gao was a leading rights lawyer admired for his bold defense of politically sensitive members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and farmers with land disputes. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his work.